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‘This is not the time to garden’: Calgary expected to face water crunch for another week

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Calgarians rose to the occasion and cut their water consumption Friday, but there’s still work to do, city officials said at a media briefing Saturday morning.

Chris Huston, the city’s manager of drinking water distribution, said the city was inspecting the feeder line that ruptured Wednesday, but that it would take time to repair.

“It’s complex,” he said. “If everything goes well, we’re looking at another five to seven days.”

City crews have reached the damaged section of the water main break and overnight were able to clear water, dirt and debris in order to analyze the location of the leak, the city said in a Saturday media release.

It added that crews are preparing the feeder main for inspection in order to determine next steps towards cutting the damaged section of pipe and replacing it.

City of Calgary Water Services Director Nancy Mackay said Saturday that water demand for the city and surrounding communities of Airdrie and Chestermere was 484 million litres, which was equal to the city’s ability to provide water.

“We made progress on pumping water,” Mackay said. “And our (water) supply is in a more sustainable position (as a result).”

While residents met the challenge Friday, Mackay issued a warning about water use over the weekend, with a particular focus on the need to not use water for outdoor activities.

That includes watering lawns, filling pools, hot tubs, washing cars and gardening.

“I’m a gardener,” Mackay said, “but this is not the time to garden.”

Calgary mayor Jyoti Gondek was more blunt.

After thanking residents for restricting their water use and helping the city meet its goal of a 25 per cent reduction in water consumption, she said city water supply is still in crisis and will be for the coming week.

“We will run out of water if we don’t take some individual actions,” she said.

Shop at a Bowness business: mayor

Pointing to the community of Bowness, where the water main break occurred, Gondek took time to thank more than 700 businesses in the community who she said are doing everything they can to limit water use.

“Keep using businesses in Bowness,” she said. “Buy coffee, buy a pastry.

“They could really use your support right now.”

Alejandro Solano, the operations manager at Salt and Pepper, a popular neighbourhood Mexican restaurant, that's been open since 1988, said the water main break forced them to close Thursday, but they were able to reopen for business Friday evening.

Business, he said, was well below the usual Friday night.

"It was noticeably quieter," Solano said. "(It was just) the regulars that really came out. It was really nice to see those faces."

Solano said distributors were washing vegetables for them and they were able to ship water in so the restaurant has returned to business as usual -- apart from the absence of customers staying away due to the water main break.

Saturday at lunch, a time when the restaurant is usually full, there wasn't a single table occupied -- during Taco Week, which started May 31 and runs through June 9.

"People have been reaching out asking if we're actually flooded," Solano said, "and in no way are we flooded.

"It's just a water issue," he added. "Right? And it has been rectified by a lot of service businesses around here.

"We're still open in Bowness and we're still good to go for business," he said. "It's a beautiful sunny day. I don't see why you wouldn't want to hang out on the patio."

Avoid site

The city also asked residents not to visit the site of the water main break.

A petition has been launched by residents of Bowness calling on the City of Calgary to Bownesians for the financial and health impact of the water main break on their community. (Photo: Tyler Barrow)

Fire ban in place

An active fire ban remains in place, said Sue Henry, Calgary’s emergency management agency chief.

“This allows for our fire department to ensure they have water available for any critical firefighting work,” she said.

Henry said the city has received 300 calls on its 311 line reporting water misuse, and 23 calls relating to the fire ban.

No tickets have been issued so far, but could be in the future, she added.

Boil water advisory continues

A boil water advisory remains in effect for Bowness. Mackay said the timeline for the lifting of that could extend beyond the 5-7 days required to fix the feeder main, as the city needs the water supply to return to normal before it can flush the pipes in Bowness.

Road restrictions remain in place. Drivers are encouraged to avoid the area around 16 Ave. and Home Road.

Updates are available at Calgary.ca/wateroutages.

With files from Tyler Barrow

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