Someone or a group of people breached the Judge Tunnel, normally an important drinking water source for Park City, within the last two months, officials said on Monday.
The municipal drinking water was not threatened during the breach, though, since water from the Judge Tunnel is currently not being put into the system based on long-running quality concerns, the Water Department said. The Judge Tunnel has not been used as drinking water since June, according to the Water Department. It has been a municipal water source since the mid-1940s.
The entrance to the Judge Tunnel is located in Empire Canyon, approximately one half of a mile south of the end of Daly Avenue. The entrance is just off a trail popular with hikers and bicyclists.
Kyle MacArthur, who leads City Hall's water operations team, said it is not clear how far into the tunnel the person or people went. He said the breach was discovered during a regular Water Department inspection. The inspections are conducted every other month inside the tunnel.
MacArthur said a hole was discovered in the roof of the Judge Tunnel. He said the person or people apparently dug one foot into the ground and then cut through two layers of three-inch-thick wood panels to gain access. They would have had immediate access to the tunnel and the water from the location, he said.
The Park City Police Department received a report at 11:31 a.m. on Oct. 15. Phil Kirk, a police captain, said the Water Department indicated a rope was discovered that apparently was used to descend into the tunnel from the hole in the roof. Kirk said no damage was discovered beyond the roof and nothing was missing from inside. Police officers who investigated did not find fresh footprints in the snow, Kirk said. The Police Department has since increased bicycle patrols in Empire Canyon.
It is not clear what sort of criminal charges could be filed against the person or people involved if they are found. MacArthur said the circumstances could warrant federal prosecution.
MacArthur said breaches of the drinking water system are rare. He said the security at the Judge Tunnel was increased in the summer of 2012. Security at the Spiro Tunnel, another drinking water source, was increased in recent months.
"Nothing's perfect. There's always a way to get around it," he acknowledged.
He said water sources are removed from the system temporarily after breaches for testing. The tests after the breaches have never found the water to be contaminated, he said, describing the cases as being perpetrated by people "looking for adventure" rather than people with ill intentions. MacArthur said security at waterworks facilities is constantly reviewed.
"We learned of another vulnerability that we had up there . . . We're going to correct that," MacArthur said.
People with information about the breach may contact the Police Department at 615-5500 or the department's anonymous-tip line, 615-5847. The department also operates an online tip form. The address is: https://www.tipsubmit.com/WebTips.aspx?AgencyID=994.