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Calgary activates Municipal Emergency Plan after water main break spurs boil water advisory

Click to play video: 'Calgary water main break spawns ‘critical water supply’ emergency alert, restrictions'
Calgary water main break spawns ‘critical water supply’ emergency alert, restrictions
WATCH: A water main break has caused Calgary's water levels to plummet to dangerously low levels, so the city is urging residents to conserve water. Heather Yourex-West reports on some of the restrictions, and why experts say the water main break serves as a warning to other communities. – Jun 6, 2024

The City of Calgary activated its Municipal Emergency Plan on Thursday as the fallout from a water main break the night before continued to escalate.

The break occurred in a key water supply pipe that carries water across the city and crews have narrowed down the location of the break, city officials said during a news conference held at 3 p.m. local time.

Crews are working “around the clock” to repair the feeder main, which is a large artery used to move drinking water across the city and beyond. The Bearspaw South feeder main serves 1.2 million Calgarians, as well as regional customers in Airdrie, Chestermere and Strathmore.

Officials said crews will determine a plan for repairs once they are able to see the size of the water main break and what needs to be replaced. However, officials couldn’t give a timeline of when repairs will be finished because of how “dynamic” the situation is.

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Click to play video: 'Officials continues to ask Calgarians to restrict use as crews work on water main break'
Officials continues to ask Calgarians to restrict use as crews work on water main break

Contingency plans are in place in case the situation worsens.

“We are working on a repair plan, regardless,” officials said.

This comes after a critical water supply alert was issued just before 7 a.m. on Thursday, urging Calgarians to conserve water usage.

“Supply levels have reached a critical state, affecting the city’s ability to provide water to communities and ensure adequate water is available to support emergency fire suppression,” city officials said at a news conference just before 8 a.m.

The emergency alert issued Thursday afternoon extended restrictions already announced earlier in the day (see next section in the article for those restrictions). As of 6:36 a.m., Calgarians were told they “must conserve water” and should not shower or bathe, or wash dishes or run any appliances that use water.

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“Every drop counts. And thank you to every Calgarians that have made small changes in their habits today that have contributed to helping. We need to keep our foot on the gas,” Susan Henry, chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, said on Thursday afternoon.

“We need to encourage continued diligence this evening. As we know, evenings are typically a time when we see higher water usage to support water-conserving efforts.”

Henry added that nine water wagons have been deployed into the Bowness neighbourhood, which has been issued a boil water advisory after the water main break happened. Specific water wagon locations can be found on the City of Calgary’s website.

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“We need everyone in this city to pull together,” she said earlier in the day, noting it is essential that Calgarians follow directions from emergency officials as the situation continues.

“It’s time for us to evaluate every single drop to make sure that we can continue to have access to water for health and safety.”

To mitigate risk of possible fire, a fire ban was put into place for Calgary at 6:45 a.m.

At a Thursday afternoon news conference, Mayor Jyoti Gondek confirmed water usage had decreased since the alert was issued.

Click to play video: '‘Every drop of water will count’: Calgary emergency official stresses amid boil water advisory'
‘Every drop of water will count’: Calgary emergency official stresses amid boil water advisory

She thanked the crews who are working to address the water main break, as well as Calgarians who are reducing their water usage.

“When the time comes for repairs, all of the equipment that’s needed and all of the pieces and parts that are needed are readily available because of the maintenance work that was already done in April,” Gondek said on Thursday afternoon.

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“We’re in good shape once we get to the point of identifying what the repairs look like.”

However, she added that it may take another day or two to identify the problem.

“Right now, we can’t even tell you what the repair is, but I think we’re looking at at least another day or two to be able to identify what’s going on. And so while we can’t give you a set time frame, we can tell you that the crews are there,” she said.

While the exact cause of the water main break had yet to be confirmed, Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong spoke to Global News about the situation.

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“We have a competent crew of water services people to get on (repairs) right away and they’ll continue to provide that repair service,” Wong said.

On Thursday, the city said it was implementing a mandatory outdoor watering ban to ensure Calgary’s water supply can best be shared by all citizens.

“The City of Calgary continues to be in Stage 4 of water restrictions,” Henry said at the Thursday afternoon news conference. “This means mandatory outdoor water restrictions are in place and voluntary indoor water restrictions are encouraged.”

This means Calgarians are not allowed to water lawns and gardens, nor are they allowed to wash outdoor surfaces such as windows and sidewalks. Calgarians are also not allowed to fill pools or fountains or use water for construction.

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The city said it also wants Calgarians to limit their non-essential water use. People can do this by delaying their use of dishwashers and washing machines, limiting shower times and keeping baths shallow, turning off humidifiers and ice machines and turning off water taps when not in use.

“Businesses using large volumes of non-essential water, such as laundromats and car washes, are being asked to reduce water use,” city officials added.

“Businesses using water to deliver a product or service that is life-sustaining for people, animals and plants are exempt. Other exemptions include any businesses that must use water to meet health code standards, such as hospitals and restaurants.”

The City of Calgary said it is also reducing its own non-essential water use.

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The city closed most arenas, city-operated pools and most fitness facilities.

“The Calgary Soccer Centre is open, but showers are closed,” officials said. “Athletic parks are open except Shouldice Athletic Park.”

For more details on closures and impacts on city facilities, people can visit the city’s website here.

The city said Calgarians can also follow its social media channels for the latest updates.

Click to play video: 'Residents of Bowness deal with boil water advisory following water main break'
Residents of Bowness deal with boil water advisory following water main break

Bowness still under boiling water advisory

People living in the northwest Calgary community of Bowness had already been issued a boil water advisory as a result of a water main break that occurred on Wednesday night.

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“The city discovered a large water main break in the Bowness and Montgomery area,” the City of Calgary said in a news release issued just after 5 a.m. on Thursday.

“The break is on a critical transmission line that enables us to move water across the city.”

 

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“We do not have an estimate for how long the boil water advisory or the water restrictions will be necessary,” the city added. “This issue is temporary, and our crews are working 24/7 to complete the necessary repair work.”

The boil water advisory calls for people in homes and businesses in Bowness to bring water to a rolling boil for at least one minute before drinking, brushing teeth, cleaning raw foods, preparing infant formula or juices or making ice.

“This advisory is being issued out of an abundance of caution,” the city said. “This advisory will remain in effect until further notice.”

A map showing the area in Calgary under a boil water advisory on June 6, 2024. CREDIT: City of Calgary

Alberta Health Services is also monitoring the situation and the city said it will be sampling and testing drinking water to make sure it is safe for consumption.

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For more information on boil water advisories, you can visit the AHS website at albertahealthservices.ca.

Logan Renaud, a communications co-ordinator for the Bowness Community Association, said his organization is working to co-ordinate volunteers to provide assistance to anyone in the neighbourhood who may need help.

“Bowness is a really special community,” he told Global News while looking at water wagons that had been set up to serve people in the area. “There’s a lot of community pride.

“We’re playing it hour by hour. … It’s just a matter of organizing it.”

Renaud noted that Bowness, a hard-hit community when Calgary faced devastating flooding in 2013, has a reputation for banding together in the face of adversity.

“That spirit is still here of neighbours coming together,” he said.

“When we all woke up this morning and realized that this was going to be a larger, ongoing issue, we had so much feedback and support from the community.”

Valerie Barclay, a woman who said she has lived in Bowness for 22 years, said community volunteers providing assistance on Thursday have “always been really good.”

She said the situation “really makes you aware of how precious our water is.”

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Click to play video: 'Councillor Sharp addresses boil water advisory in Bowness'
Councillor Sharp addresses boil water advisory in Bowness

Communities outside Calgary announce water, fire restrictions

The situation in Alberta’s largest city is also impacting surrounding communities.

North of Calgary, the City of Airdrie announced Thursday morning that its residents should “immediately stop outdoor water usage.”

“All outdoor water use is temporarily banned and indoor water conservation is strongly encouraged,” city officials said, adding that the decision to implement restrictions relates to the water supply situation in Calgary, which is also impacting Airdrie.

“All exception permits are suspended while Level 4 restrictions are in place and the City of Airdrie has suspended bulk water sales effective immediately,” officials said.

“Residents are also strongly encouraged to follow indoor water conservation.”

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Shortly before 11:30 a.m., Rocky View County officials announced its fire department had issued a fire ban for the area as a result of the water situation in Calgary.

“The ban will remain in effect and no new fire permits will be issued until repairs are made and normal water consumption can resume,” they said.

Just after noon, the City of Calgary provided an update and said the water supply alert had been expanded to include Airdrie, Chestermere and Strathmore, in addition to Calgary itself.

Researcher says more infrastructure investment needed

While the exact cause of the Calgary issue has yet to be determined, Josée Méthot, a senior policy specialist at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, spoke to Global News broadly on the issue of water infrastructure in Canada

Méthot’s work at the think-tank focuses on water issues.

“There really is a need for all levels of government to prioritize investments in water infrastructure,” she said. “We’ve known for a while that our infrastructure investment in the water sector has not kept pace with the need.

“And then in a context of growth, we need to invest even more.”

Méthot added that climate change also has the potential to create new challenges for infrastructure in Canada.

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“Sometimes we have too much water and flooding, and other times we have too little water with drought or scarcity issues,” she said. “And that has real-world implications for Canadians.

“People expect a reliable, secure supply of water. And dealing with issues like flooding or drought is very expensive.”

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