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Water crisis averted

Bob Warner and Doris Dewton
Vail CO, Colorado

As the board chairs of the two agencies that operate the public water supply from East Vail through Cordillera, we would like to recognize the dynamic and coordinated effort of community agencies who assisted with public information efforts during the water supply emergency of June 27-29.

A malfunction occurred at the Avon drinking water facility on the evening of June 26, which resulted in a water supply emergency. Storage tanks dropped to very low levels by morning because the main production source was inoperable and incapable of supplying water to the tanks. Because of this threat to fire protection and our drinking water supplies, we declared an emergency.

Our community responded rapidly and obligingly in helping spread the word. The Vail Public Safety Communications Center quickly provided the initial burst of direct contact with residents by allowing use of the “emergency preparedness network”, their version of a reverse 911 system. We appreciate the efforts that provided this resource, that it is available and how it contributes to an effective emergency response.

Eagle County’s EC Alert system delivered text messages and/or e-mails directly to cell phones and e-mail addresses. We applaud Eagle County for its leadership in acquiring this technology, which quickly informs the community of public safety concerns. Specifically, we commend the Office of Emergency Management. We highly recommend this free service to all Eagle County residents or frequent visitors. You can register at http://www.ecalert.org.

Local media contributed to fast and accurate dissemination of information. The Vail Daily launched an initial story on their Web site within minutes of the EC Alert. They updated web information throughout the duration of the supply emergency and dedicated front-page space for three consecutive days to keep it at the top of people’s minds. KZYR and the NRC Broadcasting stations (Jack-FM, KTUN, KNFO, KSKE, KQSE) updated the public via their Web sites, interviews, and DJs reminding listeners to shut off irrigation systems, which contributed to stretching the water supply we had. The Vail Mountaineer urged minimal water use in their weekend edition. TV 8 and Plum TV covered the story on their live programs. Channel 5 put a news ticker on their station. Wow!

Another coordinated effort was the use of the variable message signs on I-70 and local roadways. The brief messages displayed on these electronic signs were extremely effective and visible. Thanks to the Colorado Department of Transportation, town of Vail, town of Avon, and Beaver Creek Metro District for allowing use of this technology.

There are numerous individuals and organizations who helped keep co-workers and acquaintances informed. The regional public information officer’s group forwarded e-mails within their organizations and to others. Both the Vail Valley Partnership and Vail Board of Realtors forwarded an e-mail to their entire membership. We’re sure other individual and organizational communications took place that helped.

We were in close contact with the Vail Fire Department and Eagle River Fire Protection District throughout the incident. Our staff was ready to direct the limited supply of water in the system to the necessary location if a fire had occurred. Both fire agencies took additional steps to protect public safety in case the water supply became insufficient.

Finally, we would like to recognize our predecessors on the boards of directors of Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority who had the foresight to construct the “interconnect” ” a large pipe that connects the district’s Vail water system to the authority’s water system servicing Eagle-Vail through Cordillera. Without the interconnect, the water supply situation during this emergency would have been gravely different in the authority’s service area. The interconnect came online in 1994 and is used throughout the year to provide additional water supply to the district’s Vail service area or to the authority’s service area depending upon conditions. This is the third time it has been used during an emergency and it has greatly improved the outcome of each of those challenges. Previous directors of our two agencies understood the flexibility and improved response that would be added by building the interconnect. Those decisions have paid off exponentially over the years.

We appreciate the public support and response to the system-wide emergency which preserved fire flow and drinking water in the system. The Avon facility was 100 percent operational in less than 100 hours after the malfunction occurred ” to which we owe our last thanks ” to the imagination and technical skill used by our employees in overcoming a serious threat to our drinking water and fire protection supplies.

Bob Warner is chairman of the Board of Directors of Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. Doris Dewton is chair of the Board of Directors of Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority.


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