180,000 gallons down drain

Oak Creek declares state of emergency after waterline breaks open

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Officials declared an emergency for the town of Oak Creek on Wednesday morning after its main waterline burst Tuesday, draining the municipal water supply.

Mayor Kathy "Cargo" Rode--man said 90 percent of the town's water was drained when the 1/2-inch-thick walls of the waterline burst at about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Water plant director Stan Gale found the break, which was in a treatment plant building.

"(Gale) literally was knocked off his feet by a wall of water when he opened the door to the plant," Rodeman said. "It was gushing."

About 4 feet, or 20,000 gallons, of water remained in the 200,000-gallon tank, Fire Chief Chuck Wisecup said.

Crews worked to close pipe valves Tuesday night, but they found there was little they could do, Wisecup said.

No injuries or residential damage were reported, and the water system was back in operation by about 8 p.m. Wednesday, officials said.

The break sent a wall of water coursing along city streets, witnesses said.

"I was plowing snow right before the line burst; then I started plowing an area for all this water," firefighter Levi Wisecup said.

"It was flowing pretty fast. It was chasing me down."

Routt County Director of Emer--gency Management Chuck Vale mobilized an emergency response team that included Rodeman, firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians.

Vale and Rodeman declared an emergency because of potential health risks and the possibility the town could not fight fires. The town ordered residents to not use any water.

Vale said he activated the reverse-911 calling system at about 9:30 a.m. and called 502 residences to alert them about the emergency.

State health department officials told restaurants and bars they could not conduct business and warned that water was contaminated.

Throughout the day, Gale tested the water for bacteria and determined that the public was not at risk, Rodeman said.

The Pepsi distribution center in Craig trucked more than 400 cases of bottled water to residents, and each household received one case, Rodeman said.

The town also lined Main Street with portable toilets.

Rodeman said the team was able to handle many phone calls from concerned residents and could plan the town's next steps.

"I'm incredibly impressed with the response team," Rodeman said. "Things are looking really, really good."

The pipe did not burst because it froze, but because of an "engineering or construction failure," Rodeman said.

A team of engineers and contractors from Grand Junction arrived in Oak Creek at about 1 p.m. to assess the situation and begin repairing the pipes.

Chuck Wisecup said pumps kept the water filtration process moving and that water treatment was not affected. He also said the 2 to 3 feet of water pooled on the plant's floor didn't touch the electrical system.

On Wednesday, the town began refilling the tank at about 185 gallons a minute, Chuck Wisecup said.

The water treatment plant is about 18 months old, Rodeman said.

All that remained Wednesday of the wall of water that met Gale were puddles, soggy cardboard boxes and drifts of dirt and grime on the plant floor, and a virtual ice skating rink outside the doors.

"We were concerned that since this pipe burst right around Christmas -- in the middle of winter -- that it would be challenging to get the right people here to fix it," Vale said.

"Right now, we're trying to think about what happens tonight, what happens tomorrow, what's going to happen Christmas Day. We plan for the worst-case scenario," he said.

Andy Cardenas, assistant manager of Dinty Moore's Family Restaurant, said having no water hurt business only a little when the restaurant had to close during breakfast Wednesday morning.

Cardenas said he opened for take-out lunch orders and planned to stay open for dinner take-out orders.

"I guess we're the only restaurant staying open," Cardenas said.

A different water pipe broke in Oak Creek on Dec. 6, causing the town to lose about 80,000 gallons of water and leaving one resident's car stuck in 6 inches of ice.

Rodeman said the pipes would be repaired Wednesday night and that residents would get calls when it was safe to resume usual water usage.

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