Calgary water emergency: Repairs likely to be done in 3-week window

Click to play video: 'Officials ‘confident’ Calgary feeder main repairs finished by July 5'
Officials ‘confident’ Calgary feeder main repairs finished by July 5
WATCH: Calgary General Manager of Infrastructure Services Michael Thompson updates the timeline for repairs to damaged water pipes – Jun 19, 2024

Calgary officials provided an update on the city’s water emergency Wednesday, saying that regular water supply will likely be restored on the earlier end of the timeline estimate – in about three weeks rather than five.

Michael Thompson, general manager of infrastructure services, said that means repairs could be completed by July 5.

“As we look at the work completed to date, specifically the excavations and exposing the five sections of pipe, we can now share we are aiming for the low end of our original timeline of three to five weeks, which would be July 5,” said Thompson. “There are still many risks ahead, but every day we work through this complex repair we become more confident in our timeline.”

He said the repair work on the five hot spots is progressing faster than expected, and that construction is taking place 24/7 at two locations along 16th Avenue Northwest.

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Thompson said all the damaged pipes are now exposed and the precise locations identified. The next steps will be cutting the damaged sections of pipe and readying them for removal.

The two sections of specialized water pipe that arrived from San Diego are being treated at a local fabrication shop, which is expected to take two days.

Click to play video: 'Calgary police chief speaks about state of local emergency caused by water crisis'
Calgary police chief speaks about state of local emergency caused by water crisis

It’s been two weeks since a catastrophic water main break in northwest Calgary triggered the city’s water supply emergency, and as crews work to restore normal water service, Mayor Jyoti Gondek says citizens are succeeding in their “gold-medal effort” to conserve water.

While delivering an update on Wednesday morning, Gondek said that thanks to Calgarians’ steps to reduce their water use, the city continues to have enough supply to ensure firefighters can do their jobs and hospitals have all the potable water they need.

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“I want you to know that understanding that we are better when we stick together is the thing that will get us through this,” she said.

Gondek noted Calgarians used about 445 million litres of water on Tuesday, marking the fourth day in a row that usage has not exceeded the threshold set out by city officials.

“Since the start of this water crisis two weeks ago, you have managed to save over 600 Olympic-sized swimming pools (worth) of water,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Calgarians finding creative ways to save water'
Calgarians finding creative ways to save water

The initial timeline for a return to normal water service was three to five weeks. That includes repairing the five hot spots, executing feeder main flushing and testing, getting the pipe ready for network flow, restoring the city water and returning the system to normal service.

Thompson said Wednesday the repair estimate is now “on the lower end,” closer to three weeks.

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“We’ve exposed the sections of pipe… Now we know what we’re dealing with. We have all the pipe in the area and we’re preparing it for installation,” he said. “As we learn more, we’re becoming more confident in our timeline… We’re more comfortable and confident in accelerating it.”

Gondek said she believes it will take a couple days to sandblast and epoxy the sections of pipe from San Diego. She said the size of the pipe meant Calgary had to look elsewhere for the parts. Thompson added that the pipe has to meet technical and safety specifications for use in a water system.

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They stressed speed and safety to restore water service are the priorities.

“This quick transportation would not have been possible without the support of multiple levels of government,” Thompson said.

Click to play video: 'Third-party review of Calgary water feeder main break ordered'
Third-party review of Calgary water feeder main break ordered

The feeder main damaged on June 5 is crucial for moving water around the city. Because of the water supply crisis, residents of Calgary and several nearby municipalities were issued a ban on outdoor water use, which remains in effect. They have also been asked to conserve water indoors.

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A fire ban remains in effect in Calgary, which was brought in to reduce the amount of water that firefighters may need to use.

On Friday, officials announced that in addition to the damage originally found on the feeder main, five more “hot spots” had been discovered that required repair. All the pipes are now in Calgary for crews to work with.

Click to play video: 'Calgary water main break: New pipe has arrived from San Diego, Mayor Gondek says'
Calgary water main break: New pipe has arrived from San Diego, Mayor Gondek says

River water for industry use

Calgary Emergency Management Agency acting chief Coby Duerr said the city has come up with a way to give construction companies access to river water to continue home-building operations.

The city has been permitted by the province to create two spots on the Bow River where construction companies can “pull through” and pick up non-potable water. That way, they’ll be able to continue housing construction work without putting additional strain on Calgary’s water supply.

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The river water will be free, but companies are responsible for using it appropriately and safely.

“We’re hoping to support the construction industry and making sure that we can get back to the essential building that we need to be doing right now,” Duerr said. “We’re working with the construction industry to find out how much water they’re going to be using.

“It’s going to be a pull-through methodology where you pull through, get your water and off you go again. It will be non-potable, it will be from the river, and we have the appropriate permit.”

Click to play video: 'Calgarians told to not collect water from rivers amid conservation efforts'
Calgarians told to not collect water from rivers amid conservation efforts

Thompson said water is essential for compaction.

“Compaction of the materials required to build those communities. That’s what we’ll be using it for and the industry will be using it for — to ensure that we’re keeping that community construction going throughout the summer.”

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Bill Black, president and CEO of the Calgary Construction Association, said the initial water restrictions, including the fire ban, had a big impact on the industry, reaching plumbing, roofing, stucco and drywall work.

“There are fairly heavy uses of water in a number of different functions on construction sites throughout all stages of a project,” he said.

“Dust control in the early stages, especially in nearby residential neighbourhoods, to cut down on the dirt and mess spreading, compaction of graded areas to get them ready for the new grade, for the new construction, are all high consumption of water that’s been put on hold for the last couple of weeks.”

In construction, Black explained, you need as much reliability and predictability as possible.

“And to have back-up plans is extremely important because you can switch gears if you have the options, whereas over the last two weeks, we’ve tended to see things just halt and stop and that hurts a project because the ripple effect will now continue right through the build-out phase.”

He said the city gave the industry a heads up on the weekend that it was looking at using river water for construction projects. It was an idea that was floated during Alberta drought discussions, Black added.

“There are certainly a fairly significant number of construction activities that do not need potable water and that could become a more permanent practice potentially.”

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He said both the city and the fire department were incredible partners and listened to industry’s concerns.

“The city completely understood and engaged with us around the construction impacts leading to the river water being utilized and the fire department were incredibly responsive,” Black said.

“They understood that projects have to continue but that safety obviously is primary. They understood that some of their definitions had maybe created more shutdown than was needed. They altered the wording. Their turnaround time was incredible.”

Click to play video: 'Bow River water to be used for Calgary construction projects'
Bow River water to be used for Calgary construction projects

In an email to Global News, the province said the City of Calgary applied for a temporary diversion licence for water for industrial purposes.

“As a result, Alberta’s government has issued two temporary diversion licences to the City of Calgary for a total of 200,000 cubic metres (100,000 m3 each) for non-potable industrial purposes with diversion points out of the Bow River,” a spokesperson for the minister of environment said.

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“This temporary diversion of non-potable water will help reduce pressure on the potable water system that is stressed due to the line break but is up to the City of Calgary to track and manage water withdrawals and access.”

Details on the Bow River locations and times will be announced in the coming days, Duerr said.

Duerr said with pools closed, the city is also looking at recycling that water – using dechlorinated water from pools to wash bridge decks and for other jobs.

Click to play video: 'Calgary recreation centres cope with water shortage'
Calgary recreation centres cope with water shortage

Bylaw and enforcement

As of Wednesday, there have been 7,246 complaints made about the water emergency, including water misuse and fire ban infringements.

There have been 574 written warnings, 723 verbal warnings and three violation tickets issued to corporations.

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“We’re heading into a stretch of warm weather in the coming days and this will be our first test of summer-like weather with water restrictions,” Duerr said, encouraging people to continue to reduce water use by 25 per cent.

He also addressed “reports our crews being harassed, called names and filmed and photographed while out doing critical repair work.”

“This behaviour is not OK,” Duerr said.

Click to play video: 'Calgary official condemns harassment of repair crews ensuring water quality'
Calgary official condemns harassment of repair crews ensuring water quality

He explained that while flushing the water pipes might appear wasteful, it’s often required as the city has to continue to meet regulatory standards for water quality, public health and safety and to maintain the system.

“Harassing city staff that are doing critical repair or regulatory work… will not be tolerated,” Duerr said.

“If you have a question or concern, I’d ask you to call 311 rather than approach staff or making negative assumptions.”

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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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