Will taxpayers shoulder the cost of Calgary’s water main break? The city says it depends on provincial, federal support

Where does the water come from, and where does it go?

Those are some of the many questions being asked in the wake of Calgary’s water emergency, including what the crisis will cost taxpayers.

At a council meeting Tuesday, Calgary’s mayor and councillors poured over the facts on what led to the break of a feeder main in northwest Calgary two weeks ago, and how it could have been prevented.

There were also questions about what the repairs will cost, something officials say they’re tracking.

Coun. Andre Chabot says Calgarians will be hit in their pocketbooks.

“I mean it’s great to know that we’re tracking it, but at the end of the day, we will probably need some assistance on this,” he said. “At some point in time we’re going to have to pay for this and residents will be impacted by this through utility rates.”

Chabot believes because the water crisis is an emergency, like the massive hail story Calgary had four years ago, the province and federal government should come to the table to discuss the cost implications.

A third party investigation into what caused the rupture is underway.

Coun. Terry Wong expects people to be skeptical.

“I want to rush a review but I think it’s important to get periodic updates so that we can make adjustments on the fly,” he said.

Aside from the surface costs like work staff and materials, Coun. Sonya Sharp says there are deeper costs to consider.

“Right now, we get questions about [Calgarians’] water bills, well right now, if you’re not using all the water you did two months ago, your water bill will go down,” she explained. “But, we did also hear an answer, if we don’t get any funding from the provincial or federal government, this gets attached to user fees which goes to the customer as well.”

Meanwhile, two large sections of pipe from San Diego, arrived in Calgary Tuesday night.

In her Wednesday morning update, Mayor Jyoti Gondek addressed questions about why the replacement pipe came from California, and not a local company.

“Please know that we focused on local options first understanding that being able to ship something in from a nearby community would be a much quicker and much better option,” she said. “The issue is the size of this pipe, this is not generally the size of pipe that’s used in oil and gas operations. Generally, if this type of part is available it’s because an organization that provides water to residents has it on hand.

“That’s why the San Diego Water Authority has been such an important partner for us.”

Gondek added that while it would have been ideal to custom-make the pipe, that would have taken much longer.

“In the interest of getting your water turned on as quickly as possible, we chose the option that would make repairs much faster,” she said.

Local talent is being used to sandblast and coat the pipe, and local experts are being consulted as the city moves through this crisis.

Infrastructure general manager Michael Thompson explained Tuesday the hotspots are not leaks, but sections of the pipe that needed immediate repair.

This incident has Sharp calling for changes.

“There needs to be more audits of city infrastructure in general,” she said.

An update on construction progress is expected later this week.

The city also said Tuesday it’s education-first period for residents on outdoor water restrictions has ended, explaining fines will now be handed out for breaking Stage 4 mandatory outdoor water restrictions.

Gondek said Wednesday water use in the city has decreased for the fourth day in a row, leaving the city sitting below the threshold with enough to fight emergencies such as fires.

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