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Calgary water main repairs could take 3-5 more weeks, after scans reveal deficiencies in the pipe

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Water restrictions could be in place for three to five more weeks in Calgary, after a scan of a broken water main revealed five more locations inside the pipe that are in need of repair.

The work will extend the timeline for repairs and the restoration of water services.

“Simply put, we cannot take the chance of further pipe breaks on the long-term sustainability of this pipe,” said Susan Henry, chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency.

“Our only choice is to stay the course with our current water restrictions for three to five weeks longer, and do these critical repairs now. We need to double down and get this job done.”

The city’s Calgary Emergency Management Agency shared the findings of the scan during a press conference on Friday afternoon.

“I know that means asking all of us to keep our water use lower than usual, it also means that we have identified potential issues that could have led to another unexpected break,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek said.

City crews sent robots equipped with sensors into the pipe, which scanned more than four kilometres of the feeder main.

“Our experts say this is the most dramatic and traumatic break of the feeder main they have ever seen,” Henry said.

“This pipe is only at the halfway point in its lifecycle. From all accounts this should not have happened but it did.”

Officials say the city is looking for ways to do the repairs simultaneously to cut down on the time they take. The city hopes to be able to revise the repair timeline.

“We absolutely understand that the speed of this is (of) the essence, but we are balancing the availability of resources, the availability of materials and the safety of our team to get this done as fast and as safely as possible," Henry said.

With the restrictions expected to last well into July, they will now overlap with the Calgary Stampede. However, officials say it is too early to say whether the event will be affected by the restrictions.

“The Calgary Stampede is one of our agency members and their teams are downstairs as we speak, working on contingency plans and helping understand this news,” Henry said.

“We will continue to work with our partners at the City of Calgary and the Calgary Emergency Management Agency as this situation evolves,” the Calgary Stampede said in an emailed statement on Friday.

'Urgent crisis'

During an earlier update, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the city is facing an "urgent crisis" as work continues to repair a water main break last week that triggered city-wide water restrictions.

"Yesterday, we used up our sustainable threshold of 480 million litres of water, and while that was a slight reduction from the day before, we still have do better," Gondek said during a Friday afternoon update.

"We must do better to use less water, plain and simple.

"If our water usage continues to trend up and our water supply can't keep pace, our taps will run dry."

Update on injured workers

City crews paused work to repair the broken feeder main on Wednesday night due to an on-site injury.

On Friday, Gondek said the injured workers are recovering.

"Occupational Health and Safety gave the go-ahead to return to welding yesterday, which was the work that the safety incident team was reviewing."

If it's yellow, let it mellow

Gondek used the city's Friday afternoon update to encourage residents to reduce the amount they're flushing their toilets.

"If every household in Calgary holds off on one flush per day, that's 12 million litres of water saved," she said.

"If all did three less flushes in our households, we would be back to the low water usage that we saw on Saturday last week, where we were in very good shape."

What if there's a fire?

Calgary Fire Department (CFD) Chief Steve Dongworth spoked at the city's Friday afternoon update, saying the department has been working closely with Calgary emergency operations centre to prepare for the worst.

"We have multiple non-fire-hydrant firefighting strategies, including plans, personnel, apparatus, alternate water sources and equipment in place," he said.

"We've developed very comprehensive plans and alternative operating procedures to supplement water supply, if necessary, and are fully confident in our ability to manage fire and emergency events during this situation."

Dongworth said the CFD also has robust plans in place to supplement the water system as needed.

"Water services is providing up-to-date hydrant reliability maps daily throughout this event, and this is critical to the strategies developed by the Calgary Fire Department. They're also supplying us with reservoir levels.

"If hydrant supply is unavailable, every one of our fire engines has a tank supply of 2,500 litres of water, we have four tenders – which are water tankers – which cart between 7,000 and 11,000 litres of water each.

Dongworth also says the CFD has the ability to draft or lift water from "static water locations" like rivers, which have been mapped in every district of the city.

The CFD also has forestry helicopters and water bombers on standby if necessary.

Dongworth  says an estimated 100,000 litres of water was used to fight the recent Woodbine house fire, a two-alarm fire.

"To ensure the safety of Calgarians we are urging you to continue to conserve water."

Tickets issued for non compliance

Chief of Community Standards Chief Ryan Pleckaitis said Friday that peace officers have received more than 1,500 service requests to date, the majority of which are citizen complaints for people not adhering to the Stage 4 water restrictions currently in place.

He said more than 900 warnings have been issued, as well as two tickets for what he described as an "egregious or excessive" use of water.

The penalty for an offence under the water utility bylaw for a Stage 4 water restriction is a fine of $3,000.

Additionally, Pleckaitis said they have received 98 calls for illegal fire pits, which have led to 41 verbal warnings, 13 written warnings and a single ticket issued.

Friday morning update

Prior to Friday's 2 p.m. update on Calgary's water crisis, Gondek addressed Calgarians in an 8:30 a.m. update.

During the morning update, the mayor cautioned that water usage in Calgary has been trending upward.

"Two days ago, we surpassed the sustainable threshold and today we are at that threshold.

"We do not have access to the majority of our water supply until this feeder main can be restored to its full function and I am worried about our city and our surrounding municipalities.

"If our water usage continues to trend up, and our water supply can't keep up, the taps will run dry at some point.

"For those who want a definitive timeline of when that could happen, the only answer is that the more water we use, the sooner those taps run dry."

She continued, "We cannot give up on our conservation efforts right now, we need to do better and we need to use less water.

"Right now, we are not restricting indoor water use – we are providing you with suggestions – and we are counting on your good will to reduce your indoor water use. 

"But," she warned, "if we can't do our part by banding together, there may be some restrictions that come into place. We don't know what that looks like; I really don't want to get to that stage."

Car wash concerns

As of Friday, mandatory Stage 4 outdoor water restrictions were in place in Calgary.

The mayor says one out of every three litres of water being used in the city is from commercial customers.

"More than 700 of the city's top commercial water users have been contacted directly and they're doing everything they can to reduce their water use.

Addressing car washes specifically, the mayor said outdoor car washes are "completely shut down" while indoor car washes remain open because they recycle the "vast majority" of the water that they use – about 85 per cent.

Despite this, she urged Calgarians to refrain from washing their car unless they need to for safety reasons.

Why is the city watering trees?

On Friday, Mayor Gondek also addressed complaints that City of Calgary golf courses are still watering their greens and that city crews are watering city trees.

"The water that's being used is not the water coming out of the water treatment plant. It is non-potable, or 'recycled water'… It's not fit for human consumption," she explained.

"If you are considering taking a bucket down to the river, I am strongly urging you not to do that. You could (put yourself at risk), you could fall in. Please don't collect water from the river."

Fire ban remains

A city-wide fire ban remains in place in Calgary, including all city parks.

For more information, you can visit the City of Calgary's website.

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