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Despite having weathered "ghost town-like" conditions after a water main break that ran the town water system dry over the weekend, many Torrey business owners on Thursday reopened their restaurants and hotels with optimism about their prospects for the tourist season.
The ordeal began June 15 after a water main break in a supply line which had been damaged during flash flooding in 2016 cut off the flow of water from the town's spring on Thousand Lakes Mountain. Although the break was repaired quickly, the town's water tanks had been depleted while the demand for water exceeded the flow from the spring. The subsequent loss of water pressure caused about half of Torrey to go without water for days, leading Wayne County officials to issue a state of emergency, implement a boil order and call in help from the state.
It also forced restaurants and hotels to close during peak tourism season the primary source of revenue for many businesses in the town just outside Capitol Reef National Park.
Making the best of it • Water service came in and out at Austin's Chuck Wagon General Store and Lodge throughout the week, motel manager Michelle Perkins said Thursday after the boil order was lifted.
"It would dribble, and it would just have a small amount of water pressure," she said. "Most of the time, we did not have enough water for people to shower."
Perkins said she tried to make the best of the situation. The motel offered discount rates to travelers or, for those who wanted to stay someplace with a shower, helped them find alternative accommodations. Without water, the on-site deli and bakery had to close. The general store picked up the slack, stocking additional food items and lots of bottled water. It even rented out several port-a-potties for travelers and local residents who might need one.
The entrepreneurial spirit paid off, Perkins said, and rooms nearly sold out most nights despite the lack of water for showers.
Shauna Sudbury, owner of the Castle Rock Coffee Shop, wasn't as fortunate.
Sudbury had to shut down her business from Sunday through Thursday because of the boil order. While she like everyone else, she said lost money over the week, she was hopeful she could make up for the setback in the weeks to come. The town has attracted more guests than usual this year, she said, and she hopes to end the summer with numbers comparable to last year.
But, she said, that depends on whether tourists come back.
"I'm concerned," she said, "that if people have heard about the Brian Head Fire, and our situation, that it may take a while for the tourism to come back."
Tough on everyone • Torrey Mayor Scott Chesnut said town officials did the best they could with the resources they had.
"We don't have a pipe supply store around the corner," he said. "It's 75 miles to the nearest plumbing supply store."
He acknowledged that the situation has been tough on local businesses.
Tough might be a bit of an understatement for Cafe Diablo owner Benjamin Stutman, who said he probably lost $50,000 after closing his business from Friday afternoon through Thursday morning. Stutman also noted that his workers took a hit, as they will have to go without a week's worth of pay.
Although he agreed that town officials handled the situation as well as they could at the time, Stutman said he hoped area leaders could collaborate with one another to prevent future crises.
"They really need to put into place plans and strategies to make sure this doesn't happen again," he said. "Even if that means limiting growth if the water system cannot handle it."