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Water leak on Colorado 145 prompts traffic concerns

Wet spot on road caused by broken irrigation pipe
Water seeps out from a broken irrigation pipe under Colorado Highway 145, just north of Cortez.

A broken irrigation pipe is causing water to spill across Colorado Highway 145 near the Fairway Drive intersection in Cortez, Department of Transportation officials say.

Michael McVaugh, CDOT’s transportation director for Region 5, which includes Montezuma County, said the pipe is owned by a private company. He said his department has been trying to negotiate with the company to repair it for about a year, but it still occasionally causes water to flow across the road, prompting recent complaints from Sheriff Steve Nowlin and other county residents. According to the Montezuma County Assessor’s Office, the pipe belongs to Shriners Hospital for Children, a client of Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company.

McVaugh said he thinks the leak does not pose a danger to drivers, but it could cause long-term problems for the road if it’s not fixed.

The problematic pipe is a siphon tube that runs under the highway to deliver irrigation water to land on both sides. McVaugh said road maintenance workers notified him of water flowing across the road two weeks ago, in the latest of several such incidents caused by the leaking pipe. Because the water is shut off in winter, it didn’t create an icy patch. Still, McVaugh said, it’s risky for drivers to come across water where they weren’t expecting it.

“We may put signs out there to warn motorists about the water,” he said.

Nowlin said he hasn’t heard of traffic problems, but he contacted CDOT because he was concerned it was starting to degrade the road.

“It’s got to stop, because it’s going to create a problem,” he said. “With as much heavy truck traffic that we have, it could become a real hazard.”

He said he can’t authorize repairs on a state highway.

McVaugh said CDOT can’t fix the pipe or shut off the water because it’s privately owned, and the responsibility for its maintenance falls on the owner.

There’s little risk that the leak could cause a sinkhole, he said, since sinkholes are usually caused by fast-moving water that quickly erodes the soil. Slow-moving water can still cause problems, though, by softening the soil underneath the pavement and creating a dip in the road. Public information officer Lisa Schwantes said that hasn’t happened yet.

“Our maintenance crews are keeping a close eye on it,” she said.

She said CDOT “has been making progress” in convincing Shriners Hospital to get it fixed, and she said they would increase their efforts in light of recent complaints.

This article was re-posted on July 5 to correct the name of the irrigation pipe’s owner.

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