Calgary on the verge of collapse as mayor threatens to turn off the taps

Water could run dry in the city's taps and nobody knows why as Calgary declares state of emergency for 1.7 million residents. Is it as dire as it seems or a case of bad governance?

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Calgary's mayor Jyoti Gondek declared a state of local emergency days after a crucial feeder main pipe which supplied over half of the city’s clean water burst suddenly without any warning or explanation.

Water supply for 1.7 million people, local businesses and city infrastructure like schools and hospitals, could spontaneously collapse, and so far there’s been more questions than answers.

Roughly two weeks ago on June 5, a water main pipe feeding Calgary with 60% of its total clean water, coming from the Bearspaw Water Treatment Plant suddenly burst.

This caused flooding in the surrounding area, temporary loss of water for residents and businesses, and serious pressure on the city’s entire water infrastructure, putting at risk treated water supply for the region. Emergency broadcasting ensued.

The community of Bowness just east of the incident was hardest hit, facing a boil water advisory that residents say came too late. Rebel News interviewed Bowness locals to get their take on the situation.

Accountability, infrastructure and the City of Calgary itself, might be at stake, and there are three key areas of focus: The water main break and repairs, the integrity of our remaining infrastructure now under added stress and the effects this has on Calgarians and their business.

The first key concern is the feeder main water pipe that burst, why it happened and how it was allowed to happen.

After the pipe burst construction crews moved in to begin the 24/7 repair job that continues currently. Beginning with digging up the old pipe in order to fix the damaged area, the situation was expected to last days, then 5-7 days and then on the 9th day after the incident a robotic survey of that particular pipe showed 5 more failure points in need of immediate repair before the water main could be put back in service, requiring 3-5 additional weeks from June 14.

Once news of delays broke, the mayor put Calgary in a state of local emergency, supposedly only to access private property and hasten construction. This meant more roadway blockages within the area and prolonged strain on Calgary’s water infrastructure. But the most important question here is, why did it happen?

How did a key feeder main pipe that supplies 60% of the water to 1.7 million people suddenly burst underground leaving the remaining infrastructure struggling to supply water to Calgarians, businesses and other facilities like hospitals?

This 11km pipe is only 49 years old and was installed in 1975, supposedly built to last a century before needing replacement and apparently had passed inspections and monitoring up until now.

They do mention minor work had taken place earlier this year and more was planned for December along with further inspection, but until the point this crucial feeder main mysteriously popped, they were not expecting it. Detection methods like acoustics monitoring failed and they still don’t know why it happened.

This leaves Calgary’s remaining infrastructure stability and accountability measures in question, as well as whether they can even perform or even identify an effective repair job considering they don’t know the cause of failure. This also raises concern as to whether similar issues may arise in other Canadian cities, especially considering Calgary is supposed to have one of the better systems out there. Apparently warning signs were present from 20 years ago, but this city administration was evidently not paying attention.

The second key concern is Calgary’s remaining water infrastructure and whether it can sustain the remaining clean water flow for this extended period of time.

After this crucial pipe snapped underground, the Bearspaw plant was cut off from the city. All of Calgary’s tap water was and continues to only be supplied by the Glenmore Water Treatment Plant which normally only supplies 40%.

This facility began operating at maximum capacity since the burst and is our only remaining source of accessible treated water, now expected to operate overtime for 3-5 more weeks, atop the two weeks that have passed.

Questions remain as to whether this facility can handle the stresses of extended maximum use without experiencing failure, and whether the quality of drinking water supplied through this treatment facility has reduced to compensate for current demand needs, such as by increased use of cleaning agents or by shortening parts of the process.

I can tell you personally my tap water now suddenly smells like chlorine, and I’d like transparent communications and the details on changes that are actually being made to the treated water countless Calgarians are drinking on a daily basis.

As well, the still undisclosed nature of how the original pipe was able to spontaneously burst without prior indicators calls into question the quality and review methods of all remaining water pipes in the city, even more now as the system is being stressed by the redirection of water at altering speeds on mass to resupply affected areas and maintain active water use, creating a risk of further serious water main breaks across the city.

On June 17, I asked for clarity on the previously mentioned water infrastructure concerns and received a response from the City of Calgary’s General Manager of Infrastructure Services Michael Thompson.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t answer the question Calgarians need an answer to now, can our remaining water infrastructure sustain itself for another 3-5 weeks without a terminal disruption?

Or will 1.7 million Albertans, and the city of Calgary, be spontaneously left without any clean water for an unknown period of time for another unknown reason? On June 18, the day after my question, the mayor announced an independent investigation to look into this matter.

The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta has remarked that they are closely paying attention and will follow up with the city after the immediate public impact has been addressed, but if this will be resolved in a timely and wholesome manner is yet to be determined, as there have been no firm assurances as to the current integrity of our water infrastructure.

On top of all this, over 138,000 people are expected in the city for the Stampede in two weeks time, meaning more water usage on an already stressed system.

The third key concern in this situation is the effect it has on Calgarians and our accountability measures. Right after the incident, Mayor Gondek implemented mandatory outdoor water restrictions, with supposed violators able to be fined at least $3,000.

At the same timefire ban was put in place along with additional restrictions on hot work construction, which temporarily blocked construction of certain kinds such as roofing which can require the use of flame.

Businesses are also being asked to turn off the taps as well where they can, footing the bill for these desperately needed measures, thanks to a failure from the city to maintain our critically essential water supply.

The damage caused by this massive water disruption is something that will certainly grow into the expected 3-5 weeks ahead for businesses and the greater area.

Threats have been made by the city that water will be forcibly turned off for businesses who do not comply and that indoor water restrictions may be on the table. Meanwhile Calgarians continue to be inundated with messaging to conserve water use in their hygienic measures like washing dishes, flushing, and showering, for risk we may literally run out of water.

Amid all this messaging that you have to do your part as a Calgarian, Calgarians aren’t getting the answers they need from officials in order to properly assess their own personal security and safety.

  • We don’t know how the pipe broke or if the fixes proposed to bring it back online will cause even more disruptions considering the unknown fault variable.
  • Will we have a repeat surprise incidents elsewhere?
  • Can our water infrastructure handle the disruption without an even larger failure?
  • Do we know whether the city’s methods of examination for repair work on our crucial water infrastructure are effective or completely useless to begin with?
  • Do we know what our city officials are actually doing to help, or perhaps hurt in this situation?
  • Who is responsible for allowing this shocking failure to occur?
  • How did it burst?

Consistently the mayor and other parties involved have refused to confirm what the likely scenarios might occur for Calgarians if the situation gets worse, nor the contingency plans in place for such events.

Though perhaps this is no surprise, as they were also oblivious to this incoming catastrophe, were unable to stop it, and still don’t have a clue as to the cause. Instead of this, our mayor has dedicated her time and our resources to blanket rezoning for added construction across the city, likely in some ways tied to increased residency in the city, seemingly on top of infrastructure unable to sustain the city’s growth.

Even more concerning is the fact Mayor Gondek has said all of what she’s saying now in relation to the water main before, back in March of this year but in relation to drought.

With her constant advocacy for environmentalist causes like meeting net zero targets and lack of proactive accountability in keeping Calgary’s actual environmentally related infrastructure intact, many continue to question the judgement calls of Canada’s most unpopular mayor.

And though it is perhaps best if Calgarians stock up on water for the time being for lack of city management, that shouldn’t be an excuse to cover attempts to control residential water use schedules in our communities, or any extended restrictions once these repairs are resolved.

Should we be stocking up on bottled water? Or perhaps shaking our rain sticks for the next month so we can fill our buckets and abandon the system altogether for the sake of the environment? Or maybe, someone should be held accountable.

If you support our on-the-ground reporting and want us to continue covering stories like this, donate at RebelFieldReports.com

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