Spring thaw may be behind water main break in town

Mountaineer Square sees major leak as well

A water main line leak large enough to drain the town of Crested Butte’s entire reservoir in less than four hours occurred in the early morning hours of May 1, leaving the entire town unable to get water from their taps at breakfast.



Two weeks earlier, on April 17, there was a separate water main leak in Mt. Crested Butte, with much less water lost.
The leak in Crested Butte occurred at approximately 2:30 a.m. Thursday at the corner of Seventh Street and Elk Avenue, the same place that leaks occurred in February of this year and January 2006.
The leak on May 1 resulted in no known property damage, with all the water remaining underground as it drained toward the Slate River.
Town manager Susan Parker says the town lost 500,000 to 750,000 gallons of water and drained the town’s reservoir. “It just sucked the water out of it,” she says. The reservoir was replenished within a day.
The crack in the damaged pipe was large, approximately four feet long, according to water plant operator David Jelinek. “We estimated it was leaking about 2,800 gallons a minute,” he says.
Parker says the exact cause of the leak isn’t known but town staff suspects the freeze-thaw cycle contributed. “We’ll look at that entire area shortly because this is getting old,” she says.
The leak was discovered at approximately 6 a.m. when residents notified the town that they were without water. Town staff acted quickly to isolate the break and the issue was fixed before the workday was out.
Jelinek says the town was never “without water,” but the leak caused water pressure to dip low enough that the water could not reach residents’ taps. “But the mains had water,” he says. “We re-pressurized right away.”
Some town residents did not have access to water for approximately one and a half hours on Thursday morning while the system was restored. The town turned off water to residences near the leak for most of the day.
While no private property appears to be damaged, Parker says the town will watch the road near the leak closely for the appearance of sinkholes and other signs that will need to be fixed. “We may see some street damage because it flowed underground—that’s a lot of water flowing under the street,” Parker says.
Two weeks prior to the water line break in town, a water line in Mt. Crested Butte broke on April 17 at approximately 9:30 p.m., underneath the Mountaineer Square bus loop and just south of the swimming pool at the Grand Lodge.
Mt. Crested Butte town manager Joe Fitzpatrick says the water was seeping out of the ground around the bus loop and heading straight into the service garage of the Lodge at Mountaineer Square. A Mountain Express bus driver noticed the leak around 9:45 p.m.
According to a letter to the Town Council from Lodge general manger Chuck Donnelly, without quick response, “muddy, silty, runoff water would have cascaded into our elevator shaft, elevator electrical room, and parking garage as it flooded the loading dock.”
Donnelly says Mt. Crested Butte police officers Jeff Ewert and Brad Phelps immediately responded, along with crews from the Mt. Crested Butte Water and Sanitation District, Crested Butte Fire Protection District, and staff from the Grand Lodge and the Lodge at Mountaineer Square.
“They prevented it from flooding really bad,” Fitzpatrick says of the relief crews. He says the police obtained a backhoe and sandbags to divert the water, and Water District crews closed the water line and restored pressure before breakfast.
According to a May 6 memo to the Town Council from Fitzpatrick, approximately 300,000 gallons of water were diverted into storm drains on Gothic Road.
Mt. Crested Butte Water and Sanitation District manager Frank Glick says the district is unsure what the cause of the break was. Glick says, “There’s a cluster in there of many fittings and parts and valves. It could have been there was some (ground) movement that caused the damage.”
Fitzpatrick says to repair the line, workers had to remove a section of the heated concrete bus loop, including the piping for the snowmelt system. “Any time you mess with the concrete, it’s a major deal,” Fitzpatrick says.
According to Fitzpatrick, while the repairs were progressing the Mountain Express buses took a detour around the east side of the Grand Lodge.
Once the repair work was completed, Fitzpatrick says, “We did an air test and a pressure test with fluid in the snowmelt system.”
Although the repair work has been finished, Fitzpatrick says the buses are still using the detour around the Grand Lodge to allow the fresh concrete to cure properly. He says the exit for the bus loop will probably be open next week.

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