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Silverton nearly runs dry

Mark Esper/Silverton Standard

Gilbert Archuleta, Silverton public works supervisor, operates a backhoe while Roy Perino acts as spotter as they dig through frozen ground Tuesday morning to reach a water line that broke as a result of freezing. It’s one of two lines providing water to the town.

By Mark Esper
Silverton Standard

Avalanches that blocked two creeks nearly choked off Silverton’s water supply in recent days, but the town crew reported Wednesday morning that the crisis had passed, and the town’s 800,000-gallon water tank is filling again.

The town crew struggled for 12 days to keep water flowing to businesses and residences in town, but by late Tuesday night, the Bear Creek raw water line was back in service and the Boulder Gulch line also was performing satisfactorily by Wednesday morning.

At one point, the town crew had to use the fire department’s water truck to ferry water to the plant to keep the town supplied.

And the town crew put in long hours under miserable conditions clawing through frozen ground in the struggle to keep the water system flowing.

“What we’re pretty sure happened is that there was an avalanche up above the headgate at Bear Creek,” said Gilbert Archuleta, Silverton’s public works supervisor. “That stopped the water supply, which in turn froze up the water line.”

The water line enters Silverton through the Anvil Mountain subdivision, then heads up Reese Street. However, it is buried as shallow as only 3½ feet to avoid underlying water mains and service lines.

“We took hot water and a steam cleaner to thaw it,” Archuleta said.

Meanwhile, the Boulder Gulch water line also “had issues up there,” and was down to a trickle, Archuleta said. He figures that, too, was a result of an avalanche.

The Bear Creek water line was installed in 1978 using an emergency grant after the Lake Emma disaster, when the lake flooded the Sunnyside Mine.

Archuleta said the areas most prone to freezing are at the intersections, particularly along 10th and 11th streets.

Archuleta said about 65,000 gallons per day were trucked from the lower part of Silverton to the water plant for four days during the peak of the crisis. He said it was all filtered, as is water from the raw water line.

Archuleta described Monday night as “heartbreaking.” The crew had thawed out the line at 10th and Reese streets, working until 10:30 p.m. But when the line was pressurized again, it gave out at 11th Street.

But by 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night, the Bear Creek line was up and running.

And even the Boulder Gulch line is back to normal.

Archuleta sent “a big thanks to the people who brought us snacks and hot drinks out there. It was a big help.”

Town Administrator Jason Wells said it was “an all-hands-on-deck situation, but it looks like we’ve turned the corner.”

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