Calgary explores using interim pipes to move water from Bearspaw plant

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Calgary explores using interim pipes to move water from Bearspaw plant
WATCH: Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said during a Sunday afternoon update that contingency plans regarding the water crisis are “in place” if needed – Jun 17, 2024

Calgary officials are looking to explore other ways to move water from the Bearspaw Water Treatment Plant to get around the catastrophic feeder main break that has crippled the city’s water distribution system.

The Bearspaw Water Treatment plant draws water from the Bow River. From there, it goes to underground storage reservoirs. But the break of the feeder main has immobilized the flow of 60 per cent of the city’s treated water.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek told reporters at a press conference Sunday afternoon that the city has considered using above-ground pipes to temporarily solve the issue.

“The contingency plans that we are looking at continue to be worked on to figure out which one is the best,” she said.

“Whether it’s an overland solution or some other networking of pipes to get that water flowing.”

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The overland solution costs money and isn’t as secure as other means, according to experts like Tricia Stadnyk.

“The question becomes, this is drinking water, so this is a health and safety issue,” said Stadnyk, the Canada Research Chair in hydrologic modelling.

“If there’s any kind of compromise in the section of the pipe, there’s the possibility of contamination.”

Stadnyk, who is also a professor at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering, said the feeder main can’t be replaced because of the degree of pressure in the system.

Click to play video: 'Calgary water main break: More damage found, water restrictions to last 3-5 more weeks'
Calgary water main break: More damage found, water restrictions to last 3-5 more weeks

It’s a problem that she’s seen before in neighbourhoods that are under construction.

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The city said it has been working with the private sector to find solutions, holding meetings over the weekend to look at leveraging the experiences of oil and gas companies.

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“There are professionals … who sat down with our engineers and hydrologists to exchange ideas on what they have experienced in the projects that they have worked on, ” Gondek said.

Kerry Black, an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair with the Schulich School of Engineering’s Civil Engineering department, said there are lessons to be learned about pipeline integrity from other industries.

But they’re not cheap, adding public water infrastructure is not hugely profitable.

“These are costly mechanisms, so when you look at the amount of dollars that come in for something like public works or waste water, it’s not infinite,” Black said.

“I pay more for my gas than I do for my water, so I’m likely going to have more profit from that sector.”

There has been public criticism over the length of time the repairs are expected to take, but Stadnyk said transporting oil with water is not a fair comparison.

“It’s a human health and safety thing. We don’t drink oil. We’re not putting it in our bodies so there’s a whole host of concerns that come as soon as this is a consumable good,” she said.

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Balancing Calgary’s growth and water supply topic of university study

Stadnyk said Canada is blessed with some of the highest quality drinking water in the world, but with that comes due diligence, which takes time.

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“We have to make sure the system isn’t compromised in any way, which means, even if there’s the smallest possibility of water leaking out, there’s the possibility of something getting in as well,” she said.

“We cannot afford to have that.”

Stadnyk said even after the repairs are completed, the system will need to be flushed to remove any contamination that entered the pip—something that isn’t done in a sector like oil and gas.

The city says the amount of water flowing from the Glenmore Water Treatment Plant in southwest Calgary is just enough to meet demand, and the interim overland solution would only be used as a backup plan.

On Sunday, the city said the inspection of the remaining 300 metres of pipe had concluded and found no new hotspots had been identified. The full repair is still expected to take three to five weeks.

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