City expected to know by mid-next week when water service can return to normal

Calgarians saving roughly 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water per day

As work to repair a break in a major feeder water main continued Tuesday, Calgarians can expect limitations on their water use to last through the weekend and into next week.

Nancy Mackay, Calgary's water services director, says the work is going to take longer than officials first expected.

"We do not have a date for the restoration of the service ... Based on the information we have now, I expect to be able to share a closer date mid-next week," Mackay said on Tuesday.

"I want you to know that we're making progress. Yesterday, we were able to remove the last two sections of the damaged pipe," adding that robots were also sent in to assess roughly 300 metres of the pipe.

Additional maintenance work is also being done to the feeder main while crews repair the break, and Mackay says it isn't impacting the overall repair timeline.

"We're just taking advantage of that."

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Mackay says there are some steps that need to take place before the city shares timing on when water will be restored. Here's what she says will happen in the meantime:

  • Install the new replacement pipe, which will take roughly two days.

  • Flush the feeder main, removing any leftover water and sediment, which could take up to three days.

  • Fill the pipe and ready the city's network for water to begin flowing again, which will take about two days.

"We appreciate that this is longer than the minimum timelines perhaps originally understood," said Mackay.

"We want to make sure that this work is done right and it's done safely."

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Calgary exposed pipe from water main break - City of Calgary

Officials say city crews are taking advantage of the exposed pipe and doing additional maintenance while repairing the break. (City of Calgary)

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek thanked Calgarians for continuing to limit their water usage amid the ongoing threat to the city's supply. However, she added that Monday's use reached 472 million litres, up from the weekend's daily usage by 15 to 30 million litres.

"I think people were getting caught up on their laundry, on their dishes and their showers. But I'm confident that we can continue to reduce our water usage today and into the weekend," said Gondek Tuesday.

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The mayor added that the largest users of city water are "doing what they can" to reduce water usage.

"I've heard that local breweries and bottling companies have put water saving measures into place, and I can tell you that Enmax's Energy Centre is running at half production, reducing their water usage dramatically."

Water main repair milestones - City of Calgary

Gondek says businesses represent roughly 35 per cent of Calgary's water consumption, and the rest is used by residents.

Gondek said that each day, Calgarians have been able to conserve about 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of water.

"We will have a few more days of cutting our water consumption," she said.

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While the boil water advisory for the northwest community of Bowness was lifted late Monday — after the city said it made changes to deliver safe drinking water from the Bearspaw Water Treatment Plant by bypassing the damaged feeder main — Stage 4 water restrictions remain in place.

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Under the restrictions, watering lawns, filling pools and fountains or washing outdoor surfaces, including cars, are all prohibited. Calgarians are also being asked to limit their non-essential water use, and a citywide fire ban is still in effect.

Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) chief Sue Henry said the city has had 993 notices about misuse of water, and resolved 934 calls since June 6. It has also issued 249 written warnings, 321 verbal warnings and one ticket.

Since the citywide fire ban went into effect, the city has issued nine written warnings and 28 verbal warnings, but no tickets. Officials reminded Calgarians that gas and propane fire pits are also not allowed under a fire ban.

And 16th Avenue N.W. remains closed to traffic and pedestrians in both directions.

Importance of infrastructure

Officials say that, while crews are working 24/7, it will still take days to fix the 50-year-old piece of infrastructure that supplies water to roughly 60 per cent of the city.

Calgary damaged pipe - City of Calgary

The City of Calgary said the first cuts to the damaged pipe were made over the weekend. (City of Calgary)

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In an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesday, University of Calgary assistant professor Kerry Black said a rupture this large is rare.

"We expect some level of failure of certain pieces of infrastructure, but you don't expect something as catastrophic as that," said Black, a Canada Research Chair in integrated knowledge, engineering and sustainable communities with the university''s civil engineering department.

"You expect a warning sign that there's a problem and then you fix it before it turns into a major rupture."

Calgary has over 15,000 kilometres of underground pipe, says Black, adding that she believes the City of Calgary does take a proactive approach to maintaining its infrastructure when compared to other municipalities.

But she says there still needs to be more of a focus on funding for infrastructure and its maintenance.

"The reality is that infrastructure costs a whole lot more than we're willing to spend on it. We need more influxes of dollars from the province and the feds," she said.

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"It's the first thing people will complain about when it's not working but it's the last thing that people want to pay for, and that's a huge problem."

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Black called the situation a "wake up call" for Calgarians, adding that she hopes this will help residents better understand their water usage amid ongoing discussions around drought, long after the feeder main is repaired.

She also expects there to be more questions for the city in the coming days as crews work to discover the cause of the break.

Gondek also says the city is confident that it has the budget needed to cover the costs of repairing the feeder main.

"It's always a partnership between the federal, provincial and municipal governments to deliver on infrastructure for the citizens that we commonly serve," she said.

"We've seen a drying up of those [infrastructure program] funds over time. While I do not think it's appropriate to blame anyone in this situation, I will say that I hope all three orders of government can now see how important it is for us to be funding infrastructure properly."

This article, written by Lily Dupuis, was originally published for CBC News.

Thumbnail image courtesy: Monty Kruger/CBC.

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