Calgary declares state of local emergency over water crisis prompted by feeder main break

Click to play video: 'Calgary water main break: Mayor enacts local state of emergency amid repair extension'
Calgary water main break: Mayor enacts local state of emergency amid repair extension
WATCH ABOVE: Mayor Jyoti Gondek announced a local state of emergency Saturday, during an update on water restrictions in Calgary brought on by a damaged feeder main – Jun 15, 2024

Mayor Jyoti Gondek announced Saturday that the City of Calgary has declared a local state of emergency on Day 10 of its water supply crisis, triggered by what officials have described as a “catastrophic” water main break.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck situation,” Gondek told reporters at a news conference.

She added that she has been in contact with Premier Danielle Smith and other provincial cabinet ministers about what comes next.

The announcement came one day after crews found “significant” additional damage on a crucial feeder main, shifting the expected timeline for restoring normal water service to three to five weeks from now. The northwest Calgary feeder main was first damaged on June 5.

Officials have said the feeder main is crucial for moving water around the city.

Click to play video: 'Calgary water emergency: Repairs to crucial feeder main could take weeks,  officials say'
Calgary water emergency: Repairs to crucial feeder main could take weeks, officials say

On Saturday, Gondek said declaring a state of emergency will help the city “expedite things.” She said most importantly it will help to allow crews to access private property, should they need to, in order to address the multiple damaged areas of the water system that have now been identified.

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The mayor said she is grateful for the support the provincial government has offered the city.

Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver issued a statement after Gondek announced the local state of emergency had been declared.

“Alberta’s government supports the City of Calgary in its decision to declare a state of local emergency as this step signifies the critical state of Calgary’s water infrastructure and the work that must happen expeditiously in order to return to normal,” his statement read in part.

“Alberta’s government remains in regular communication with the city through the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, Alberta Emergency Management Agency and directly with the mayor’s office and we support the city in any way that is needed.”

Gondek was joined at Saturday’s news conference by Calgary Emergency Management Agency chief Susan Henry.

Henry said “we are working as hard as we can to bring that (three-to-five-week) timeline down,” but reminded Calgarians that the “break was catastrophic” and that Friday’s robotic inspection of the damaged part of the water system “has shown (the) need for additional repairs.”

“We know what we need to do and we are working around the clock,” she said.

Gondek added that if the city “can make this happen faster, we will absolutely make it happen faster.” She noted that she has been in touch with industry professionals, including from Alberta’s energy sector, to help crowdsource ideas that could help crews resolve the situation even more quickly.

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Click to play video: '3 of 5 pipe segments for water main break repairs already in Calgary, official says'
3 of 5 pipe segments for water main break repairs already in Calgary, official says

Because of the water supply crisis, residents of Calgary and several nearby municipalities were issued a ban on outdoor water use nine days ago which remains in effect. They have also been asked to conserve water indoors.

Officials have warned that taps could run dry if water demand exceeds supply. Officials also note that the city needs to have enough water for fire emergencies and other potentially lifesaving needs.

Gondek said Calgarians used the same amount of water on Friday as they did on Thursday but that there is a need to reduce consumption even more.

“We are still at that maximum threshold at 480 million litres used (per day),” she said, adding that there are many ways Calgarians can reduce water consumption.

“(For example), if every household in Calgary did one less toilet flush per day, we would save 12 million litres of water.”

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She added that Calgarians can collect rainwater in barrels and buckets to use it for gardening or other purposes that don’t require potable water.

Gondek said when city officials learned Friday that the feeder main damage was more significant than first anticipated, “there was no one more disappointed than me.”

She said city crews were also disappointed, “but we had to let people know.”

“I will talk to you every day and let you know how you’re doing in terms of reducing water use,” Gondek said.

“I believe that Calgarians will rise to this occasion as they have on many others.”

On Friday, Gondek warned that if Calgarians do not ensure water consumption stays below the 480-million-litre-per-day threshold that the city says needs to be maintained to ensure adequate supply, the city may have to consider bringing in restrictions on indoor water use.

When asked about the possibility of further restrictions on Saturday, Gondek said “it remains to be seen what we need to do in the coming weeks.”

Nancy Mackay, the City of Calgary’s water services director, joined Gondek and other officials for a news conference on Saturday afternoon and said the city is “taking additional steps to ensure we are fair and consistent” when it comes to enforcing restrictions and encouraging water conservation.

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One of those steps, she said, was to ask vehicle dealerships, car washes and vehicle repair shops to stop washing vehicles.

“I want to assure these businesses that this is temporary, but necessary,” Mackay said.

Henry said the city has already received nearly 1,800 calls about potential water misuse and has resolved all but 139 of those calls to date.

She added the city has also received dozens of complaints about people possibly violating a fire ban imposed to mitigate the risk of fires while water supply is of concern. She said 18 of those are still being investigated.

“As strong and resilient Calgarians, I urge you to continue to band together at this time,” Henry said, thanking those who have been adhering to restrictions and conserving water.

“The spirit of the community is what’s going to get us through this. … If we all chip in, a million small reductions can make a huge difference.”

Update on repair work

Francois Bouchart, the City of Calgary’s director of capital priorities and investments, provided an update on repair efforts on Saturday afternoon.

“The planning required for these repairs is complex,” he said, noting it is important that any repair work done does not have a negative impact on other water infrastructure.

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“We need to be very intentional in how we plan and action our crews to this repair.”

Bouchart said crews did more work to drain a section of pipe overnight so it could be inspected, but noted some of the robotic inspection had to be delayed because more water was discovered. He expects analysis of that section of pipe to be completed Monday.

He noted that of the five additional “hot spots” identified Friday that also need repair, materials needed for the fix are now in Calgary for three of them. The materials for the other two have been procured and should be in the city in the coming week, he said.

“We are committed to getting this done as fast as possible while working safely,” Bouchart said, adding crews will not compromise public health or work quality.

The feeder main that was damaged is 49 years into its expected 100-year life. So far, officials have yet to identify what caused the break.

Gondek said city officials “intend to be fully transparent” with the public about what happened once that has been determined.

“But we need some time to really focus on getting that repair done right now,” she said.

Questions raised about crisis’ impact on Calgary Stampede

The new timelines for restoration of normal water service mean current restrictions could still be in place when the annual Calgary Stampede gets underway on July 5.

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“We will continue to work with our partners at the City of Calgary and the Calgary Emergency Management Agency as this situation evolves,” the Calgary Stampede said in a statement Friday.

Gondek was asked Saturday about Calgary’s capacity to handle tourists before water service returns to normal. One reporter specifically referenced the Stampede.

She said the city is currently examining data from previous summers to try to determine the impact a spike in visitors may have on water consumption.

“I can’t speculate right now,” Gondek said. “But as we get closer, definitely those are conversations we will have.

“We will provide updates as soon as those become available.”

Gondek added that Stampede officials were briefed about the situation on Friday and “those conversations continue.”

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.

Click to play video: 'Calgary Stampede past water usage data being examined to predict spikes, mayor says'
Calgary Stampede past water usage data being examined to predict spikes, mayor says

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