Mudslide disconnects water line in Fairview


By Angela Marx Thompson

Staff Writer



FAIRVIEW—A mudslide in Fairview Canyon has turned one of the city’s biggest fears into reality.

The mudslide happened on May 24 at 7:30 p.m. near a section of the Fairview Canyon Road residents call Horseshoe Corner. The slide disconnected a pipe in the “spring line” from the rest of the line.

The spring line is the deteriorated pipeline carrying culinary water from mountain springs in Fairview Canyon several miles to the city water tanks. Ordinarily, Fairview gets 50 percent of its culinary water from the line. And the break happened just as the city was conducting studies to apply for a federal grant to replace the spring line.

“It was a slide right onto a slide that happened in 1983,” said Justin Jackson, Fairview water superintendent, in an interview earlier this week. The mud not only broke apart the line—it buried it.

State law requires cities in Utah to have a backup water source in case a primary source goes out. Fairview has two wells, both just outside the city limits. The city is now dependent on the wells, and for now, “our water levels are holding,” Jackson said. The mudslide has caused a couple of water restrictions: Notices have been sent out to residents instructing them not to divert any culinary water to outdoor irrigation. And until the pipeline is repaired, the city will be unable to provide any wildfire support, Jackson said.

The Fairview City Council convened an emergency meeting last Friday, May 31, to get an update on the problem and to consider recommendations for action.

The slide triggered an alarm system that was installed last year. The alarms went off within 1 minute of the slide, Jackson said.

“It [the alarm system] immediately notified me and allowed me to go over and start closing valves and start getting water flowing from one source to another, minimizing our contamination potential…,” Jackson told the city council. “If we had not installed that system, we would not have found out until after Memorial Day, at which point in time the tanks would have been empty and we would have had a serious potential for contamination issues.”

In a May 31 letter to residents, Mayor Dave Taylor, reported that the “State of Utah Water Resource Division has determined there has not been any contamination in the line entering the tank. All our water tests have come back good.”

Mark Atencio, water resource project manager for Horrocks Engineering, the consulting company working with the city on the grant application, helped Jackson survey the damage and outline potential actions for the city to consider.

Pictures of the slide area show the pipe section resting inches above the current Cottonwood Creek surface. In researching the section of pipe that was damaged, Jackson reported that a notable mudslide had occurred in the same place in 1981, and the section of pipe involved had been replaced. Following the slide in 1983, no work was indicated, meaning the pipe moved, but did not break.

Jackson told the city council when he examined the pipe, he found that the pipe itself had not broken but had become completely disconnected from the line. Jackson said as many as 300 feet of pipe was now misaligned.

Some parts of the spring line run along the ground while other sections run above ground on wood or concrete pillars. Jackson said the break occurred in a span of the pipeline that was already sagging. He said it would take a sizeable excavation to discover and address the specific span. There are many other potential washout and slide sites in that area, he said. There would be no possibility of getting equipment to the site until the area begins to dry out from recent rains and spring runoff.

Atencio said there are many things happening in the city right now that are interwoven with the pipeline break issue, including potential population growth and infrastructure (e.g., the spring line) that is at the end of its life.

He talked about the city’s long-term goal with respect to its spring and its abundant water rights in Fairview Canyon. The pipeline break presents a potential “opportunity to improve that situation, and that could help with redundancy of supplies, which you’re lacking, and I think that’s highlighted by tonight’s meeting. It also would help you to provide for future growth,” he said.

Atencio focused on the possibility of locating project funding if the pipe were upsized (the current pipe is 6 inches in diameter) to handle potential growth.

Regarding the present water supply, Jackson said with both wells sending water to the water tanks, the tanks are full. But he warned that the city would need to keep consumption below 2 million gallons per week to avoid stressing the system.

Jackson noted that winter water consumption (a time that typically has no outside irrigation use) is 1.5 million gallons per week. Jackson pointed out that there are 60 homes located above 6,100 feet that are completely dependent on one of the wells, “Well 4.”

He reminded the council that Well 4 was the well that failed last year and noted that it was a stroke of good fortune that the failure occurred when it did. Because the well got fixed, the city can reasonably depend on it to continue functioning during this situation.

When questioned about the ability of the city to respond to a fire, Jackson said, “We have 1.2 million gallons in storage right now, which should, at least for home-structure fires, be sufficient.”

A letter was sent to all residents with their water bill on Monday describing the mudslide and informing residents that culinary water would need to be conserved. The city has placed a moratorium on using culinary water for irrigation. Taylor said that the moratorium would be enforced.

The council approved an engineering work order to allow Horrocks to begin collecting information on what to do next, and specifically, whether to fix the affected section or to move forward with replacing the entire line, possibly with a larger pipe. The entire estimated cost of the work order came to $61,700.

Mayor Taylor reported to the council that a prior administration had the foresight to establish a savings account, deposited in the Public Treasurer’ Investment Fund (PTIF) run by the state, for just such an emergency. Currently, that account has $95,000.

Taylor asked the council to authorize the city to immediately move those funds into the appropriate account and to authorize Horrocks to begin their work as quickly as possible. Taylor noted that a public hearing will be held June 20 prior to funds actually being committed.