Calgary water main repairs complete, normal service could be restored ahead of schedule

As repair work on Calgary’s water main break is advancing towards completion, many Calgarians are worried about the repair cost. Henna Saeed talks to some concerned citizens and seeks some answers from the city.

The repair work is done on Calgary’s broken feeder main and the city’s water emergency could be over sooner than expected.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek teased the positive news in an update Tuesday morning and later confirmed the possibility of things returning to normal before the July 5 target date that was set last week.

“This is another important milestone in the water main repair work,” Gondek said during the city’s afternoon water update. “Next, the city’s water team is going to begin a four-step process.”

The four steps will involve filling the pipe, flushing the pipe, testing water quality and returning to stability, according to the mayor.

“If all of this goes well, the work of returning the city’s water system to regular service could be done sooner than we expected,” she says.

Crews are now in the process of back-filling the trouble spots along the damaged Bearspaw South feeder main and the mayor said paving along the sections of 16 Avenue NW that were ripped up will begin “very soon.”

However, the good news on repairs comes with a word of caution, officials say there is a very real risk the feeder main could break as the pressure starts to build while they begin filling it.

“When the original pipe break happened it created a substantial depressurization to the pipe, and shocked the system,” said Calgary’s general manager of infrastructure services Michael Thompson. “Due to the shock, we know there’s a risk we will find other issues in the pipe as we start re-pressurize.”

Thompson says the city plans to manage the risk by carefully filling the pipe and slowly bringing it back to pressure. Crews will be using acoustic monitors and sensors to detect any further wire breaks and pressure spikes.

CEMA Chief Sue Henry also cautioned Calgarians into thinking the water situation is over.

“We’re now entering into a critical phase of water restoration,” she says. “We are not out of the woods yet, and this is where we are going to need your patience and continued help.”

She stressed staying the course on water saving until the last phase is finished.

Gondek said there was an uptick in water usage Monday, as Calgarians used around 476 million litres.

She explains that is too close to the safe threshold needed in case of fire or other emergencies, and reiterated the importance of being vigilant in water usage.

“We need to be down a little bit more to ensure that we have water stored up in case of any emergencies like the one we saw in Prestwick,” Gondek said, referencing a major condo fire in the city’s southwest over the weekend. “Now is the time to keep up your great efforts like the things you’ve been doing shorter showers, skipping that load of laundry and ensuring that you’re collecting rain water for watering your plants.

Residents can now pick-up non-potable water for outdoor plants at six locations across the city and hours of operation are shifting slightly for residential pick up from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The list of locations can be found here.

Stage 4 outdoor water restrictions and a fire ban also remain in place. Fines are now being handed out for non-compliance and the city says they have now fielded more than 2,700 calls about water misuse, issuing 17 tickets.

The start of the independent review promised by the mayor is also nearing reality, she said.

“That third-party independent panel of experts will get to the bottom of what happened and the steps that were taken,” Gondek said. “CAO Duckworth intends to bring this framework for the panel to the Infrastructure and Planning Committee next week and it will then come to a full meeting of council in July.

Last week, the mayor also said she would raise questions at Tuesday’s council meeting regarding the budget and maintaining infrastructure.

‘Chaos’ behind the scenes

While this work is underway, council has been looking closely at the water situation.

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp, says there has been chaos behind the scenes for months, and too many instances of council looking at issues that don’t matter, such as the single-use items bylaw.

“When you have a water main like that literally rupture and explode and we need to be focusing on what matters to Calgarians, we should not be focusing on things that don’t matter to Calgarians,” she said.

The councillor says there should have been an all-hands on deck approach from day one of the break, adding that the city waited too long to take serious action.

“There was a more proactive measure we could’ve done here — coming out of the gate blaming other levels of government on this wasn’t a good approach in my mind, that’s not something you want to do in kind of an emergency situation,” Sharp added. “There are many leaders we could have pulled on day one and I think we waited too long and once we found out there were five additional hot spots, that added an element of stress on this whole crisis.”

-With files from Logan Stein

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