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Proposed class-action lawsuit filed over Calgary water main break

A proposed class-action lawsuit has been filed against the City of Calgary, claiming businesses needlessly lost significant revenue due to a water main break.

In a statement of claim filed Wednesday, Angel’s Cafe, located near the June 5 water main rupture, alleges the city knew the failed pipe was made of lower-grade materials and should have moved to prevent the failure.

“The city knew or ought to have known about the Bearspaw water main’s state of disrepair before the rupture and was required to take reasonable steps to prevent a catastrophic premature failure from arising,” the document says. 

The break in the pipe, which carries 60 per cent of the city’s water, caused major disruptions for the city’s 1.6 million residents and those in surrounding communities. It flooded a neighbourhood and forced a boil-water advisory in that part of the city.

All residents were asked to cut their water use by 25 per cent. They were urged to flush toilets less often and take shorter showers. Watering lawns and gardens was forbidden for weeks, unless it was from rain barrels. 

The lawsuit has to be certified by the courts to proceed as a class action. Angel’s Cafe is currently the only plaintiff named in the claim.

The allegations have not been proven in court. 

A City of Calgary spokeswoman said officials were aware of the lawsuit but had not received the statement of claim in order to comment. 

A spokeswoman for the city-owned utility provider Enmax Corp., also named as a defendant, said the company received the lawsuit and will assess it. 

The cafe’s lawyer, Clint Docken, said there’s ample evidence the pipe was in danger of failing.

The lawsuit alleges there have been at least 600 previous catastrophic failures of the same kind of pipe.

“These failures were well-documented and widely publicized,” the lawsuit says. 

The document says the pipe, which dates from the 1970s, uses reinforcing wire insufficiently protected against corrosion. The document also says the pipe uses concrete that’s porous and prone to erosion.

The suit says eight additional weak spots on the pipe were uncovered during the repairs.

“All of these weak points existed before the rupture and were capable of being detected by the city,” the document says.

Angel’s Cafe says in the lawsuit that it was forced to remain closed on weekends that usually generate big revenue, such as Father’s Day and Canada Day. 

“The losses were quite remarkable,” said cafe owner Cathy Jacobs in an interview. “We’re estimating about $60,000.”

She said the break also forced her to cancel events such as concerts and open mike nights. 

The lawsuit says the cafe also suffered damage from the rupture, including a broken water heater and toilet. As well, it alleges the city failed to provide water to the cafe despite promises to do so. 

The suit alleges Enmax failed to provide an alternative water supply to the cafe despite a contract to provide water services. 

Docken said he’s heard from other area businesses that suffered similar losses. 

“There will be dozens of businesses in the immediate area,” he said. 

The pipe has since been replaced and is operating at 70 per cent capacity. Indoor water use has returned to normal, although a ban restricts Calgarians to watering their lawns to one hour a week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2024.

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