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‘Too early’ to lift water restrictions, Calgary officials say

Click to play video: 'Calgary water main break: City must maintain enough water for critical firefighting efforts, officials say'
Calgary water main break: City must maintain enough water for critical firefighting efforts, officials say
WATCH: Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Susan Henry said Sunday in a second update on repair efforts to a feeder main break, that the city needs to ensure enough water is available for “critical firefighting efforts.” She said as a result, residents may expect low-flow or no water at all as reservoir levels reach the one-third mark.

Emergency officials in Calgary say it’s still too early to determine when water restrictions will be lifted following a feeder main break in the city’s water system.

Calgary water services director Nancy Mackay joined forces with Mayor Jyoti Gondek and Emergency Management Agency chief Susan Henry on Sunday afternoon to update the public on the break.

Mackay told reporters crews began removing the damaged section of pipe Saturday. Once sections are removed and the repair is installed, crews will flush the pipe to ensure the water is safe to drink.

Flushing could take a few days, she said.

“It remains too early to say when the boil water advisory or the restrictions will need to be lifted,” Mackay said.

Water supply concerns began Wednesday after a massive feeder main break in the Montgomery neighbourhood of northwest Calgary, which triggered a boil-water advisory for Bowness residents.

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The advisory remains in effect, as does a water supply alert for Airdrie, Strathmore and Chestermere. Water wagons have been set up in Bowness to support residents.

Calgarians living elsewhere do not need to boil water, but are still asked to conserve water.

Click to play video: 'Calgary water emergency: Why will repair of the feeder main break take a week?'
Calgary water emergency: Why will repair of the feeder main break take a week?

Officials have described the feeder main, which carries water from the Bearspaw Water Treatment Plant, as a “critical” water line. The damage has “severely impacted” the city’s ability to move water.

Gondek said ahead of Sunday’s briefing the city needs to do a better job outlining what the situation means for Calgarians.

“There’s still people out there that think this is some sort of joke. Some think it’s a conspiracy theory. It is not,” she said Sunday morning.

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“If we don’t practice water conservation, we will run out of water — not because it doesn’t exist at the treatment plant. We can’t get it to the reservoirs until this piece of infrastructure is fixed.”

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On Sunday afternoon, Henry said if reservoir levels reach ⅓ capacity — which she added is unlikely — the city would have to further restrict water use so water is available for firefighting efforts.

When reporters asked what running out of water might look like, officials said residents would see little to no water flow when they turned on the tap.

After the feeder main broke on Wednesday, Gondek said the area near 16th Avenue NW flooded. Crews had to pump water away from the site to access the pipe, assess the damage and create a repair plan.

Click to play video: 'Calgary water emergency: Repair could take a week, city officials say'
Calgary water emergency: Repair could take a week, city officials say

The plan involves cutting out the broken piece, lifting in a steel replacement piece and welding it to the existing concrete pipe. Gondek noted the pipe is large enough to drive a truck through.

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“That’s why this is all going to take — at minimum — five to seven days,” she said. “It is a really big repair job because this piece of infrastructure is so big, and that feeder main is a major artery.”

According to Gondek, the feeder main was expected to last 100 years, but the city only recently reached the 50-year mark. Other pipes and feeder mains are in “good or very good condition,” she said.

Until the pipe is fixed, the city is relying on water from the South Glenmore Treatment Plant, which is also supplying water to the other 40 per cent of the city.

Once reservoirs normally filled by Bearspaw are empty, they can’t be refilled because the feeder main is broken, she said.

Calgarians have been asked to stop using water outdoors and minimize indoor water use. On Sunday, Henry said residents can “adopt a navy shower approach.”

“This is where you turn off the water, lather up, turn the water back on and quickly rinse off,” she said.

Henry also recommended turning off water taps while brushing teeth, shaving or washing hands, and suggested catching shower water in a bucket to flush toilets.

In addition, she encouraged Calgarians to use dishwashers and washing machines for full loads only.

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Click to play video: 'Calgary’s water supply crisis: expert weighs in'
Calgary’s water supply crisis: expert weighs in

Gondek said Calgarians have been complying with restrictions. On Wednesday, about 650 million litres of water were consumed, but only 440 million litres were used on Saturday, she said.

The average Calgarian uses 173 litres of water per day, equal to two full bathtubs, Gondek said.

Henry said bylaw officers have responded to 638 calls for water misuse since Thursday, but only issued 116 written warnings. No tickets were issued.

The city is advising Calgarians to not fill buckets with water from the river to water plants and gardens due to river safety.

“There is rain in the forecast over the next couple of days and again this weekend. so we’re encouraging Calgarians to collect rainwater where possible and let Mother Nature help us,” Henry said.

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Henry said the city is making efforts to reduce water. Staff have stopped watering plants and showers are closed in leisure facilities. Some arenas have also closed.

While Calgarians may have seen crews using non-potable water to protect newly planted trees and irrigate golf course greens, Henry said using non-potable water does not impact the water supply.

When asked by reporters about improved communications with the public, citing the 2013 flood as an example, Gondek admitted communications were much stronger at that time.

She said work is already underway to improve how the city delivers updates.

With the exception of Sunday, Gondek is expected to address reporters every day at 8:30 a.m. until the situation is resolved. Emergency officials will also hold updates at 2 p.m. every day.

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

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