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Calgary feeder main repairs complete, water service could be restored sooner than expected

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Repair work on Calgary’s broken water main is progressing faster than anticipated, but there are still a few more steps crews need to complete before water restrictions are lifted in the city.

In an afternoon update on Tuesday, Mayor Jyoti Gondek said crews have completed welding and sealing the pipe, and begun backfilling the trenches. The mayor, however, remains cautious about setting a firm completion date.

“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,” Gondek said.

“But we’re not quite at that point yet.”

The city says there is a four-step process that needs to be completed before the work is done:

  • Phase 1: The city will begin filing the pipe on Wednesday night or Thursday morning. This step will take approximately one day and includes pressurizing the pipe, filling it with water, listening for breaks and monitoring pressure levels.
  • Phase 2: Flushing of the pipe is scheduled to begin on Friday and will take approximately one day. Water will be released through fire hydrants and dechlorinated before reaching the river. Water samples will also be collected.
  • Phase 3: Testing of the water will begin on Saturday and will take about one day. The water samples will be analyzed and reviewed by Alberta Health Services.
  • Phase 4: If the water samples pass the tests, the main will be stabilized. The city will monitor reservoir levels, adjust and redirect water flow and gradually ease water restrictions. This will take three to five days.

"When the original pipe break happened, it created a substantial depressurization and shocked the system. We know there's a risk we will find other issues in the pipe as we start to pressurize it," Michael Thompson, Calgary's infrastructure general manager, said.

On June 5, 2024, a 78-inch feeder main broke in Calgary's northwest community of Montgomery, cutting off the supply of treated water from the smaller of the city's two treatment plants.

Since then, Calgarians and residents of many other communities that rely on fresh water from the Bow and Elbow Rivers have been under strict outdoor water use rules and voluntary indoor water conservation guidelines.

Re-paving work on sections of 16th Avenue that were torn up during repairs is expected to begin “very soon,” along with site cleanup.

Frustration for businesses

While Mayor Gondek expressed optimism, businesses remain frustrated by the lack of a concrete timeline and potential financial losses.

"Right now, we have companies who are telling us they're virtually bankrupt," said Kyle Brost, president of the Irrigation Association's Canadian Prairie Chapter.

"Should the city and the province step up and help out? I think they absolutely should."

The City of Calgary, however, has denied compensation requests.

"At this time, the city is not considering any financial compensation," said Sue Henry, Chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA).

Businesses like Naiad Irrigation Systems are concerned about the staged return to normal water use.

"Even a staged return ... will impact our industry immensely," said Myles Sidorak, owner of Naiad Irrigation Systems.

"Last summer, with stage two restrictions, we saw an 80 per cent drop in revenue."

The situation is particularly dire for businesses like Bowness Bottle Depot, whose owner, Dilnaj Kullar, reported a significant drop in business due to road closures.

"There's got to be someone to take care of the situation," said Kullar. "There's got to be someone outside of our small business owners to deal with this drastic effect on our business."

While CEMA encourages Calgarians to support businesses impacted by the construction, the city has no plans for financial compensation at this time.

Water restrictions continue

On Monday, residents used 476 million litres of water, just under the threshold of 480 million litres, Gondek said.

She says many more days like Monday "could put supply at risk."

"Now is not the time to give up on our water-saving practices. Now is not the time to fire up the sprinklers or get your car washed," Gondek said.

Work at the sites is expected to consist of backfilling the areas over the next couple days.

Gondek cautioned that even once the work itself is done, it could be days before the pipe is flushed and Alberta Health Services gives the all clear for water to start flowing again.

"We are not out of the woods yet," she said. "The underground reservoirs will also need to be filled before we get to the water use that we are used to."

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