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Calgary feeder main break to cost ‘tens of millions’: city official

The costs to repair a ruptured feeder main that led to city-wide water restrictions and a state of local emergency in Calgary are expected to be in the “tens of millions,” according to city officials.

The city’s infrastructure services general manager, Michael Thompson, revealed the broad figure in response to a question from Ward 2 Coun. Jennifer Wyness during Tuesday’s council meeting.

“I can tell you the cost for the is in the tens of millions of dollars, not larger than that,” Thompson told council. “As we’ve said before, we believe we have contingencies available to cover that.”

However, Thompson said costs for any “medium or long-term” rehabilitation plans for the 11-kilometre feeder main line would fall outside of that figure. According to the city, those contingencies for emergency repairs are funded through water utility rates, while officials investigate “opportunities for funding” from other orders of government.

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However, Calgary’s mayor said the final tally is required before a decision can be made on how to cover those costs.

“Once we have a better idea of what this costs, we can definitely give you a much better idea of where we’re going to draw those funds from,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek told reporters Tuesday.

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp noted she wasn’t surprised by the broad estimate of the emergency repair’s costs.

“It’s nice to maybe hear we’re estimating high and you come in lower, but this has to be transparent,” Sharp said. “Critical infrastructure around this city probably needs some repairs.”

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Calgary mayor says ‘next 72 hours are critical’ to restoring normal water service

City officials have said the costs would also be included in an independent third-party review of the incident, which the city says will of the year to complete.

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City councillors are expected to approve the initiation of that review, and the selection of the panel to undertake the work, during their meeting on July 30 after concerns were raised about its independence, process and terms of reference.

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“I think if we want true independence, the terms of reference cannot be something that we have a hand in,” Gondek said.

It’s a probe that one local development advocacy group wants to see expanded to include public engagement and a deep dive into leakage in the city’s water system.

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“It is crucial to address public and stakeholder concerns and to restore confidence in the reliability of Calgary’s water distribution system,” BILD Calgary Region CEO Brian Hahn wrote in a letter to city council.

It follows BILD’s claims that Calgary experienced a water loss of 22 per cent in 2022, of which 88 per cent came from leakage throughout the system.

The City of Calgary confirmed BILD’s figures and noted that water loss was around 36 billion litres of water.

“Water loss occurs in all distribution systems,” the city’s infrastructure dervices department said in a statement to Global News. “The City manages water loss through proactive leak detection to find and repair leaking infrastructure, replacement of aging infrastructure and a cathodic protection program to protect deterioration of metallic pipes.”

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Officials also said water loss has been reduced from 337 litres per connection per day in 2019 to 286 litres per connection per day in 2022.

However, Sharp told reporters BILD has been raising these concerns with the city and it would be “appropriate” to include the issue in the scope of the review.

“If you’re going to get a group of folks to unearth the things that have been going on during this water crisis, then why not use the same folks to look into that?” Sharp said. “If you have the experts, utilize them.”

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Meanwhile, an additional pump has been turned on at the Bearspaw Water Treatment Plant as city officials slowly increase the capacity in the repaired feeder main to 70 per cent.

During an afternoon update Tuesday, the city’s director of capital priorities and investment, Francois Bouchart, said the increase in pressure hasn’t resulted in any issues so far.

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“We haven’t detected any issues within the pipe that might halt our progress,” Bouchart said. “This is good news in our path to stabilizing the pipe at 70 per cent of water flow, and potentially moving to Stage 2 outdoor water restrictions on Thursday.”

Bouchart noticed acoustic monitoring of the repaired line detected a fourth wiresnap since the water was initially turned back on, but it occurred prior to the increase of pressure when the second pump was turned back on.

“Wire snaps can be an indication that the pipe is under stress,” Bouchart said.

He noted the snapped wires, which are tightly coiled around the interior of the pipe, will require medium and long-term rehabilitation plans.

Calgary used 558 million litres of water on Monday, which Bouchart said was higher than Sunday’s water use but still within the limit of what the city’s water system can provide.

Bouchart said the city is expecting to see higher water use this week, with temperatures forecast to be above 30C for much of the week.

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