Calgary needs water conservation efforts to improve to avoid drinking water shortage: officials

Click to play video: 'Still no timeline on water main repair, as Calgary continues to urge water reduction'
Still no timeline on water main repair, as Calgary continues to urge water reduction
WATCH: The city continues to ask Calgarians to reduce their water usage because there is a risk it could run out. As Meghan Cobb reports, this comes as repair work continues of the massive feeder pipe, but officials still don’t know how long the repair could take. – Jun 7, 2024

Emergency officials issued a dire warning to Calgarians on Friday as a water supply emergency — brought on by a massive water main break earlier in the week — still has no timeline to be resolved.

“This current level of water use cannot continue … (or we will be) at risk of running out,” said Nancy Mackay, the City of Calgary’s water services director.

“We must all further reduce our water use to effectively use our remaining water supply.”

Nancy Mackay, the City of Calgary’s director of water services, speaks to reporters at a news conference on June 7, 2024. CREDIT: City of Calgary (screengrab from a livestream)

Mackay joined Susan Henry, the chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, Friday afternoon to provide an update on the water issue that first arose Wednesday night.

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City officials have described the broken feeder main as a “critical water transmission line.” They note the damage has “severely impacted” Calgary’s water supply and the ability to move water across the city.

On Thursday, Calgarians were asked to stop using water outdoors and do their best to minimize indoor water use.

Both Mackay and Henry said Calgarians did a good job of conserving water for much of the day, but more conservation efforts were needed once people got home from work in the evening.

“(That) took us back to a situation where we were using more water than we can produce,” Henry said.

Henry said more efforts need to be made to conserve water. Calgarians are asked to reduce 25 per cent of their water usage by doing things like taking shorter showers, delaying laundry until next week and reducing dishwashing.

“Although we have seen, at various points throughout the day, a decrease in that water usage, we can do more and we need to do more,” Henry said.

She added that after evaluating the risk, large community events like the Calgary Stampeders’ season opener game are still going ahead.

“Things like this do not have a large draw on our water supply, and we understand the Stampeders game will go ahead as planned,” Henry told reporters.

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“If you are visiting Calgary over the weekend, we need you to help us save water for the next few days and we thank you for your contributions while you are here.”

Mackay said crews have uncovered the pipe and exposed some of the damage, and engineers are making a repair plan. However, she said repairs will still take “days.”

Mackay is hopeful workers will get a better sense of when crews can begin repair work on Friday.

Mackay told reporters Friday that water main breaks are common in Calgary and other Canadian cities, but the size of this one is significant.

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“It’s still going to take days for us to make that repair and get (the feeder main) back into service. There’s still a need for conservation,” she said.

“We’re able to produce 520 million litres of water … It’s coming largely from one of our plants for the entire city. It’s impacting all of us. Our demand today averaged 610 million litres, which means we’re continually drawing down the amount of water that we made up last night.”

Click to play video: 'Calgary Mayor continues to urge water conservation amid critical water main break'
Calgary Mayor continues to urge water conservation amid critical water main break

Earlier on Friday, Mackay asked Calgarians to remember the spirit of unity and sacrifice that got the city through a devastating flood in 2013.

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“We need everyone to do their part,” she said, adding conservation efforts need to improve.

When asked how quickly the city could run out of drinking water if conservation efforts do not improve, Mackay said it was difficult to project because it depends on a number of factors.

“That all depends on what Calgarians do,” she said, noting most major urban centres in Canada always have one-and-a-half to two days’ worth of drinking water supply on hand.

The majority of the city’s drinking water is stored in underground containers and crews are monitoring water levels very closely.

“Storage throughout the city is being depleted,” Mackay said.

Henry noted Thursday the break is “large and complicated.”

In a news release issued Friday morning, the city provided tips on how to conserve water, such as recommending that people take shorter showers, skip “a few flushes” and hold off on a load of laundry.

Officials also said people should not be washing their vehicles until the water supply returns to normal.

Henry said city bylaw officers received 71 calls about misuse of water since Thursday, as well as eight calls about people not adhering to a fire ban the city brought in Thursday to mitigate the risk of firefighters not having enough water to properly respond to all calls.

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Susan Henry, chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, speaks to reporters at a news conference on June 7, 2024. Credit: City of Calgary

Henry said in many of the calls, Calgarians simply were not aware of the water emergency. Bylaw officers have been employing an “education-first approach” to such complaints.

“We’re focused today on … (making sure that) everyone understands,” she said.

Henry thanked city crews for their tireless work as the situation continues.

What led to the water supply concerns

The water supply concerns were triggered by a massive water main break in northwest Calgary on Wednesday night. The incident happened in the Montgomery neighbourhood but spurred a boil water advisory for residents of Bowness.

The boil water advisory in Bowness remains in effect on Friday. For more information on boil water advisories, you can visit the Alberta Health Services website by clicking here.

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Water wagons have been set up in various parts of Bowness to support residents.

In addition to spurring water conservation efforts in Calgary, the damage has prompted officials in Airdrie, Strathmore and Chestermere to take steps to limit water use.

People in those communities can visit their municipality’s websites for the latest information.

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


“I want to thank Calgarians who have been practicing water conservation,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek said on Friday afternoon.”I know you have been working hard to reduce the amount of water that you’re using, as well as the folks in neighbouring communities

“We’re in the midst of a significant water supply challenge, and it requires a unified effort from all of us.”

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In a news release issued Friday morning, city officials said crews continue to work “around the clock” on the water main break.

“Overnight, we continued to pump water from the area around the break. We are hopeful that by later today we’ll be able to see the feeder main and determine the cause of the break.”

Premier Danielle Smith provided a statement to Global News about the situation on Friday.

“Calgarians need access to clean water,” Smith’s statement read in part. “My hope is that this issue gets resolved rapidly and we’re pleased to see how quickly the city has responded.

“This year, we’re providing $223.8 million to the city of Calgary for LGFF (Local Government Fiscal Framework) funding with no strings attached. Mayor Jyoti Gondek has never asked us for funding to repair their water supply infrastructure. These systems are funded by a user pay system. Calgarians are paying for this infrastructure each month on their water bills. If anything, I would encourage the mayor and city to immediately review and assess all water supply infrastructure.”

For the latest updates from the City of Calgary, you can follow the city’s social media channels or click on its website here.

For the latest Alberta Emergency Alerts, you can click on the province’s website here.

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