Broken water lines bring Rangely restrictions; normal wear was cause

RANGELY I A 16-inch raw water line and 12-inch potable water line burst within hours of each other in unrelated incidents last week, causing large-scale water restrictions in Rangely on July 15 and 16.

At 8:30 p.m. on July 15, a corroded pipe burst in a raw water line near Airport Road in east Rangely. Rangely Public Utilities Supervisor Alden Vanden Brink and senior officials activated what would become the first round of an emergency response plan that, among other actions, placed the town on mandatory water restrictions.
The CodeRED emergency communications call announcing the restrictions, which many Rangely residents received via landline or cell phone, asked residents and businesses to stop all outdoor water use, from lawn and garden watering to irrigation.
“Under conservation, I know how much the town can use if we go under water restrictions,” Vanden Brink said. “We activated the restrictions once we got to the point where we knew we would have enough water to do the repairs if we limited use.”
By early Wednesday, town utilities, public works and gas departments, with assistance from the Rangely Police Department, Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office and Urie Trucking, had isolated and repaired the leak. Vanden Brink estimated that 50,000 to 60,000 gallons of water had been lost.
Wednesday morning, a second CodeRED notice reminding residents of ongoing restrictions preceded the town’s plans to eventually halt the cutbacks and restore normal usage.
But at approximately 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, a potable water pipe burst west of Rangely near Highway 64, across from the county annex. Officials believe the second corroded line had been leaking for approximately a week, Rangely Town Manager Peter Brixius said.
“There was no cause and effect,” Vanden Brink said. “They were two totally independent, isolated instances. It was like winning the lottery — except we didn’t win.”
Both pipes, made of ductile iron and penetrated by corrosion caused by acidic soils, have been repaired, the potable section with new plastic pipe that had already been scheduled to replace the 30-year-old section next month, Brixius said. The raw water pipe, which received a more temporary fix, will be completely replaced later.
Eventually, the town hopes to replace the water system’s steel and ductile iron pipes with C900 (plastic) or high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe, a long-term project officials hope to complete in segments year by year.
Brixius and Vanden Brink said that difficulty maintaining water levels in the town’s low zone tank south of Rangely made them suspect a leak in a distribution system pipe.
Confirming there is a leak and locating it, however, is another matter.
“It’s tough to find a leak in the distribution system until it comes to the surface,” Vanden Brink said. “Usually they do, but it can take a long, long time. There’s technology out there, but it’s not readily available here. It’s also expensive and can’t always tell with 100 percent certainty what’s there.”
Still, after the CodeRED notices and the police department’s help spreading the word, Vanden Brink said he was pleased with individual and industry responses.
“I think more people could get on the CodeRED list; I talked to a couple of people who didn’t know we were in a state of emergency; but after the second notice went out, yes, people were more responsive,” he said. “The first notice happened late enough that we didn’t catch a bunch of people.”
Raw water users like the cemetery, the park and recreation district, the golf course and Colorado Northwestern Community College, along with major potable water users like Chevron, reduced or stopped use almost immediately, Vanden Brink said. Other people cut watering systems off right away or when they learned of the restrictions.
That the emergency response plan worked effectively overall meant that Vanden Brink didn’t have to deal with much bigger problems, like the system running out of water and depressurizing.
“Yes, there was a fear we would depressurize,” Brixius said. “We probably would’ve taken drastic actions if we’d gotten down to the last five or six feet in the (low zone) tank. We were within 300,000 gallons … of depressurizing. That’s seven feet. We can have over 20 feet in the tank.”
Running out of water, even for a portion of the town, would be both intensive and expensive, involving extra hours for employees to flush the system, run water quality tests and make personal contacts to residents and businesses who need to understand that just because water’s running again doesn’t mean it’s safe to use.
Workers had the low zone tank and ponds topped off and back to normal by the work day’s end Wednesday.
To link your cell phone or landline to the CodeRED system, go to or contact the Rangely Police Department at 675-8466.