Outdoor watering banned as Rifle fixes pump problem
After alternating from a mandatory prohibition on outdoor water use to less restrictive measures, Rifle is barring outdoor water use as the city works to repair a new problem in its water infrastructure.
The ban for municipal water users, along with a request that those users restrict indoor use as much as possible, will likely remain in place at least until Wednesday, when staff hopes to re-evaluate the situation at the city pumping station off the Colorado River.
City Council is slated to receive an update on the situation during a special meeting at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Rifle City Hall.
Water problems have persisted since last Wednesday when staff discovered the location of a break in the city’s raw water line — the only line that transports Colorado River water to the Graham Mesa treatment plant.
The break was fully repaired by 10 a.m. Thursday and the situation appeared to be heading back to normal. Within hours, though, it became clear that the city was not pumping the amount of water being called for, and staff began troubleshooting the problem, Jim Miller, Rifle utilities director, said Monday.
By Friday staff determined a valve associated with one of the city’s three water pumps that push water into the previously ruptured line was not working properly. Heading into the weekend the city instituted alternating restrictions that would allow customers with an even-numbered address to water their lawns on even-numbered days and customers with odd numbers addresses to water on odd-numbered days.
Over the weekend, crews discovered problems with the other two valves — which, when operating correctly, prevent water from flowing back into the pumps when they are not operating.
On Sunday, the all-out restriction on outdoor use was put in effect again.
The hope is that the city will receive the pumps in the next day and begin the process of replacing one of the three valves. At that point, staff will evaluate the situation to determine if there is enough water capacity to lift or augment the current ban on outdoor water use, which extends only to municipal water users.
On a clarifying note, Rifle City Manager Matt Sturgeon said certain municipal facilities, including Deerfield Park, rely on other sources of water, such as Rifle Creek.
The Colorado River is the city’s main source of water. At peak demand the city produces 4.2 million to 4.3 million gallons per day, according to Miller. That number now is closer to 1 million to 2 million gallons of water per day.
“We’re limping along,” Miller stated.
The restrictions have had a noticeable effect on water demands, despite a string of days when temperatures climbed to 90 degrees or hotter. Both Miller and Sturgeon thanked customers for following the guidelines.
However, the process has revealed difficulties in communicating with the public and some people, who are unaware of the restrictions, have continued to water their lawns, Sturgeon said.
Rifle Police Department is monitoring for those situations and issuing warnings, but the department has not started issuing citations, said Rifle Police Chief John Dyer.
Under the municipal code, failing to abide by water restrictions is a class A misdemeanor that carries a $30 fine.
The city continues to use social media, notification systems, the Rifle website and local TV station to get the word out, but there is a portion of the population still unaware that the restrictions are in place, Sturgeon said, adding that the city has yet to come up with a solution to that problem.
Roadside reader boards have been placed at several locations in the city to alert people of the current situation, but those too only reach a limited number of people.
Aside from a gap in reaching certain segments of the population, Miller said the recent events exposed unseen vulnerabilities in the city’s aging water system and highlighted the need for greater resiliency.
While the break in the raw water line appears to have caused the malfunction with the valves, the two are distinctly different situations, Miller said. The break in the 40-year-old raw water line was caused by movement and an underlying bedding of large rocks that rubbed against the pipe.
Infrastructure issues happen, but that does not lessen the severity when those problems arise.
“It’s a big deal,” Miller said.
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