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Calgary declares state of local emergency amid prolonged water main repairs

CALGARY — The City of Calgary declared a state of local emergency over the city's constrained water supply on Saturday, a day after officials revealed that work to repair a burst water main is expected to take three to five weeks longer than initiall
Liz Workun fills water jugs from an emergency supply provided by the city as work to repair a major water main stretches into a second day in Calgary, Friday, June 7, 2024.Calgary has just declared a state of emergency over the water main break. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — The City of Calgary declared a state of local emergency over the city's constrained water supply on Saturday, a day after officials revealed that work to repair a burst water main is expected to take three to five weeks longer than initially expected.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she signed the paperwork to declare the emergency on Saturday morning following the investigation of the broken pipe, which uncovered five more areas in need of repairs.

She said the declaration grants the city powers it ordinarily wouldn't have, such as allowing city workers to enter private property to expedite repairs.

"This is not a decision that was made lightly," she said during a press conference alongside Calgary Emergency Management Agency chief Sue Henry.

"If we can make this happen faster, we will absolutely make it happen faster and I'm determined to do everything that I can to do so."

To help speed up the repair process, Gondek said the city has been speaking with municipalities across the continent to source parts, equipment and expertise. She added the city is also looking to the private sector, including companies from Alberta's energy industry, to help find solutions.

In the meantime, Gondek reiterated a plea for residents and businesses to reduce water usage during the crisis.

That includes allowing employees to work from home if possible, which she said could save people a morning shower and having "to worry about what they look or smell like."

Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver issued a statement on Saturday saying Alberta's government supports the city "in any way that is needed" and remains in touch with provincial and municipal emergency management agencies, as well as Gondek's office.

“Alberta’s government supports the City of Calgary in its decision to declare a state of local emergency as this step signifies the critical state of Calgary’s water infrastructure and the work that must happen expeditiously in order to return to normal," McIver said in the statement.

Calgary, a city of 1.6 million people, and some nearby municipalities including Airdrie and Chestermere, have been under a combination of mandatory and voluntary water cutback rules since the major water line ruptured in Calgary’s northwest on June 5.

Gondek said the city reached its maximum threshold of 480 million litres used on Friday — a figure that had stabilized from the day prior.

Anything higher than the threshold means Calgary is using more water than it can produce and will eventually run out.

Henry said an analysis of the pipe conditions earlier in the week revealed the break was "catastrophic."

"We've seen the complexity of the one fix that we've been managing for the last week," she said.

"Now that we have five fixes to make, this will be a complex undertaking and we need to make sure that we have a smooth path ahead and mitigate as many circumstances as possible."

The updated timeline for repairs also means water restrictions are likely to be in place through the start of the Calgary Stampede, which is scheduled July 5-14 this year.

The annual fair and rodeo is known for attracting droves of tourists and filling Calgary bars and restaurants throughout the 10-day festivities.

But Gondek said she wouldn't speculate on whether this year's edition will need to take place under adapted rules if the situation is not resolved by opening day.

"What I can tell you is that we've got really good partnerships at the city with many organizations, including Calgary Stampede, and I'm looking forward to understanding their perspective after their meeting here yesterday," she said.

When asked, the Calgary Stampede did not clarify whether organizers are preparing for an adapted version of the event, or if certain parts could face cancellation.

"We will continue to work with our partners at the City of Calgary and the Calgary Emergency Management Agency as this situation evolves," said spokeswoman Shannon Greer in an emailed statement.

In 2020, the event was cancelled for the first time in more than a century amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and returned the following year under capacity limits.

Tourism Calgary said in a statement Saturday that hotels, restaurants and other venues are "actively engaged in water conservation efforts," and it thanked visitors for their understanding and support.

Calgary Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Deborah Yedlin noted the Stampede generates $540 million in economic impact and that any interruptions could have "substantial economic repercussions."

"This is particularly acute for tourism and hospitality sectors that are still working to make up for several challenging years through the pandemic," Yedlin noted in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 15, 2024.

— By Sammy Hudes in Toronto, with files from Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton

The Canadian Press