Calgary’s emergency prompts questions about Edmonton’s water supply

Click to play video: 'Calgary’s water main break prompts questions about Edmonton’s water supply'
Calgary’s water main break prompts questions about Edmonton’s water supply
The water main break in Calgary is raising some concerns about the security of Edmonton’s system. Officials say a similar scenario is unlikely in our city, but not impossible. As Erik Bay tells us, businesses reliant on water want more protection from any disruptions – Jun 7, 2024

As Calgary struggles through a water supply emergency caused by a massive water main break, people in Edmonton are wondering how the city would fare if something similar happened here.

“There is some cross connectivity in Edmonton, so we could run on one plant, basically,” said Coun. Tim Cartmell, explaining Edmonton’s water system is a bit different than Calgary’s. Edmonton has two water treatment plants— E.L. Smith in the west end and Rossdale downtown — and also has reservoirs across the city.

“But that doesn’t mean that if we had a giant pipe fail, we wouldn’t be in a similar situation.”

Wednesday night, there was damage to a “critical water transmission line” in Calgary, severely impacting the city’s water supply and ability to move water across the city.

On Friday, emergency officials issued a dire warning to Calgarians to reduce water use or the city would run out. As of Friday afternoon, there was no timeline for a fix.

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Click to play video: 'Calgary ‘at risk of running out’ of drinking water if usage not reduced after water main break'
Calgary ‘at risk of running out’ of drinking water if usage not reduced after water main break

“If both plants stop today in Edmonton, I think we have enough for two days of consumption before the reservoirs bottom out,” Cartmell said.

“We’ve got redundancy. It’s just a bit more connection between the two plants and we’ve got a pretty solid system in Edmonton.”

In late January, Edmonton’s E.L. Smith Water Treatment Plant suffered a pump equipment failure. The issue prompted a ban on non-essential water use that was in place for five weekdays until EPCOR could make repairs and get capacity restored.

“Part of the intent of EPCOR is to put in more cross-connections between the two plants so that if we do have a plant that goes down, we can limp along with one plant and not go to zero,” Cartmell said.

In January, he said, one plant was already running at half speed when the other went down completely.

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Click to play video: 'Fallout from water ban in Edmonton continues'
Fallout from water ban in Edmonton continues

Edmonton has water reservoirs scattered around the city — and more are added as the city grows — but water can’t be stored in the reservoirs for too long, Cartmell explained.

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“If you have reservoirs that are too big, you store water for too long and the water is no longer good to consume after too much detention time.”

Preventative maintenance is important but not always easy, especially on pipes that’s constantly being used and full of water, he said.

And, while unexpected emergencies are rare, they do happen.

“It can happen, and it’s not wrong that it happens. The utilities that we have servicing our city are pretty rock-solid utilities but nothing is guaranteed 100 per cent of the time, 100 per cent capacity.”

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Cartmell said most residents can accommodate something like a non-essential water ban but businesses that rely on services like water or electricity should consider their own back-up plan.

“If losing water is absolutely mission critical to your business, then you need to understand that sometimes it may not be there and it’s on the individual to take whatever measures necessary, if that is absolutely critical to their operation,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Water ban shuts down businesses across Edmonton for days'
Water ban shuts down businesses across Edmonton for days

Ultra Car Wash was one of the Edmonton businesses asked to close during Edmonton’s water ban in January.

“With a business like this, that’s so dependent on water, the restrictions basically had to halt us from being operational at all,” manager Ribal Jamal said. “It affected our customers, affected our business and the employees as well.

“It can be very costly and there was no compensation or anything.”

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Jamal thinks it would be prudent for EPCOR to have some sort of back-up plan in case of unforeseen issues.

“It’s crucial. I understand that sometimes it’s not EPCOR’s fault and they do everything they can, but it is their fault for not having contingency plans for that sort of thing,” he said.

“It seems like there needs to be a rethinking done about how they operate their system.

“They need to have something in place to make sure that people like us have the water supply in place to operate our business,” Jamal said.

Click to play video: 'Epcor faces Edmonton City Council to explain management of non-essential water use ban'
Epcor faces Edmonton City Council to explain management of non-essential water use ban

In a statement to Global News, EPCOR said it’s difficult to compare Edmonton’s water system to Calgary.

Edmonton’s system includes distribution main lines and larger transmission lines. There are 4,391 kilometres of water lines and nearly 23,000 hydrants.

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In the past 10 years, Edmonton has had an average of 276 water main breaks a year, most of them in the winter, and “typically” resolved within 24 hours. Larger transmission leaks and breaks are rare, EPCOR said. Last year, there were eight “unscheduled” transmission line repairs that were, on average, resolved within 2.5 days.

“We continuously review and update our emergency management scenarios and have contingency plans in place to manage large outages as demonstrated during the E.L. Smith water outage earlier this year,” the statement reads.

EPCOR says it does regular inspection and maintenance on all the assets it owns and manages.

“For the transmission system, this would include routine inspection of valves, vents, drains and chambers.” Certain wearable components are routinely replaced and refurbished, EPCOR said.

“Inspections involve specialized technology to identify leaks and damage in order to proactively address these issues. We also use proactive leak detection, ground penetrating radar and we are incorporating more AI technologies to monitor the system. This allows EPCOR to execute planned replacements and repairs as necessary and ensure reliability of our system,” the EPCOR statement reads.


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