Despite progress, City still in hot water over leaky pipes

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek and Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Susan Henry (r) on Tuesday.
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek and Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Susan Henry (r) on Tuesday.Shaun Polczer/Western Standard

Calgarians can take comfort knowing that work to replaced damaged sections of its leaky water main are complete and the water could be flowing again by the middle of next week.

That’s because the ‘repair’ phase is coming to a close almost three weeks to the day following the June 5 failure.

The problem is that the ’refill’ and ‘restore’ phases  even tricker to pull off and the city could still be struggling with water shortages well into Stampede —or longer.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek and city officials tried to put the best face forward after announcing Tuesday that the line has been welded and crews will now turn to the task of backfilling the exposed trenches and repaving the segments of 16th Avenue through Bowness and Montgomery.

Exposed pipe section on 16th Ave.
Exposed pipe section on 16th Ave.City of Calgary

But engineers won’t know if the repairs were successful until the feeder main is refilled and brought to pressure. City infrastructure manager Michael Thompson said there is still a good chance — maybe even likely — it will uncover more weak spots in the line.

And given the creaky condition of the pipes to begin with, contingencies have been put in place to deal with any further incidents, including the possibility of another major break. 

“As we prepare to flush and test, we know there are risks involved. We’re aware there is a higher chance of another rupture during this phase and this happens with any pipe you’d refill,” he said.

Thompson wouldn’t speculate on what possible timeline in the worst case could be but cancelling or delaying the Stampede isn’t one of them.

‘Restoration’ phase underway
‘Restoration’ phase underway City of Calgary

Nor is repaying local businesses for their losses. Irrigation companies are seeing 80% losses in their busiest time of year while storefronts in Montgomery around the work areas are seeing similar declines in traffic to their shops.

Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Susan Henry said the are “no plans” to address the issue of compensation. That’s assuming the city isn’t at fault for any negligence to begin with.

Already there are anecdotal grumblings of lawsuits by affected businesses.

When asked if Gondek was too quick to pat workers and people for their sacrifices in getting out of a crisis, perhaps should instead be focussed on how they were led into one.

In response Gondek promised a full accounting, and accountability.

“At the moment we are in a situation where we have had a main break. Absolutely there is an independent incident review that is being planned there will be independent third party professionals on that panel looking at what happened, why it happened, and how we can ensure it doesn't happen again,” she replied. 

“Now's the time to pull together as a community. It’s also the time for our city crews to be working with private sector contractors and experts to get the repair work done.”

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