Empire's water service returning as leak-detection efforts continue

Town still under boil order, as of March 28

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About 70% of Empire's residents and businesses have water service, as of March 27, although a boil order is still in place.

While no leaks have been identified yet, Empire and its partners have narrowed their search to a small area suspected of losing pressure. It has been isolated and shut off for a more detailed examination.

The pressure loss could be a leak, Police Chief John Stein stated in a March 27 press release, but it could also be a value that isn't closed completely.

The remaining lines without water still need to be further pressurized and tested, he continued.

In the interim, Empire residents can pick up bottled water at Town Hall and can fill buckets or other containers from a tanker outside from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Residents can take free showers at the rec center in Idaho Springs with proof of Empire address.

In late February, the town experienced a 150% increase in water usage over the same period last year. Because of the cold weather, the town's water supply was low as Madd Creek froze over. Residents were advised to check their plumbing and ensuring they weren’t using excess water.

On March 15, the town’s water shortages escalated. So, the town intensified its leak detection efforts, as residents were asked not to use their water March 16-17.

From there, the situation escalated to decreased water pressure, intermittent loss of water and boil order.

According to Mayor Wendy Koch, during the week of March 21, most of the town’s infrastructure was pressurized with gas to locate the suspected leak. Those efforts didn’t yield any major leaks, but several smaller issues were noted and were addressed.

Afterward, Empire started restoring water service to different sections of the town to help to locate the suspected leak.

The town also issued an emergency declaration to assist with resources and seeking funding, Stein stated. Colorado’s Water/Wastewater Agency Response has been activated and is assisting, and volunteers were scheduled to deliver two cases of bottled water to every housing unit on March 28.

Koch emphasized that, as of March 27, anyone who has water service is under a boil warning, which will remain in place until water service is restored to the entire town and it has been tested.

There are several pieces of good news that Koch and Stein outlined.

They said several municipalities and nonprofits have been helping with leak detection, providing water, and delivering it to residents.

Additionally, the town's surface water levels are also back up thanks to the warmer weather.

Finally, Koch and Stein stated, Empire is adding a new filtration system to its old well. The state health department approved the design on March 24, and crews were scheduled to start work on March 28. If all goes according to plan, Koch said the town might have all its water service restored by April 1, but she couldn't guarantee it.

Residents adapting to the situation

Empire's Bob Wise, who's been helping residents fill their jugs and buckets at Theobold Park, felt like almost everyone in town had adapted to the situation.

"There are two or three people who aren't with it," he said on March 25.

While it's been a major inconvenience for everyone, he said it's also been a community-building experience. He's been able to see all the residents as they've stopped by Theobold Park for water, and he's appreciated having an opportunity to give back to his neighbors.

Plus, others have joined him in giving back. People have brought snacks and meals for the volunteers and workers, he said, including Empire's Bernie and Peggy Hubner.

As the two refilled their water jugs, Peggy described how she and her husband have been driving to their son's house in Denver for showers and laundry. While it's a long drive for a shower, she said, it's worked out so far.

Peggy said one day, she was so excited to take a shower, she forgot to take off her Fitbit and accidentally got it wet.

The Hubners and Wise were grateful to the volunteers and workers who've put in hundreds, if not thousands, of hours over the past two weeks.

"The entire town staff is working their tails off," Wise continued.

As the town continues adapting to the situation, Stein asked residents and business owners to monitor the town’s website and social media for accurate and up-to-date information.

For non-emergent questions, comments and requests, contact Stein at 303- 257-1422 or Town Hall at 303-569-2978.

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