City crews continue search for source of 'catastrophic' water main break

A drone shot of the spot where a catastrophic water main rupture broke ground, next to a plaza on 16 Avenue N.W., just west of Home Road. (Monty Kruger/CBC - image credit)
A drone shot of the spot where a catastrophic water main rupture broke ground, next to a plaza on 16 Avenue N.W., just west of Home Road. (Monty Kruger/CBC - image credit)

Calgary crews continue to search for the source of a "catastrophic" break in a feeder water main that's plunged the city's water supply into a critical state.

The large water main — as wide as two metres in parts — suffered a break Wednesday night that left hundreds of homes and businesses in the city's northwest without water.

During an update Thursday afternoon, the city said Calgary remains under Stage 4 water restrictions, meaning mandatory outdoor water restrictions remain in effect.

Officials also urged people to continue to do what they can to reduce indoor water use, like delaying running dishwashers, washing machines, limiting showers and keeping baths shallow.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek thanked Calgarians for conserving water, noting water usage is down. She urged Calgarians to "carry on leaning in" to help with the situation.

"As we go into the evening hours, please keep at it," she said.

A boil-water advisory remains in effect for Bowness, but the water in all other communities is safe to drink.

The city said crews are working around the clock to identify the location of the break in the 11-kilometre-long water main, which was installed in 1975.

"Our crews are now digging the site and continuing to take some water and debris out of the hole," said Nancy McKay, the city's director of water services.

Calling the break "catastrophic," she said crews are working on a repair plan. Once they find the break, they'll be able to determine its size and what needs to be replaced, she said.

City of Calgary
City of Calgary

Feeder mains carry drinking water from the city's treated water reservoirs to the network of water mains that deliver the water across Calgary and beyond, she said.

In this case, the affected water main is called the Bearspaw South Feeder Main, which McKay called the "most critical" in Calgary's water system as it moves water to east and south parts of the city, away from the city's largest water treatment plant in north Calgary.

"If we are being very, very optimistic, and they can remove the water from the site and actually get in there and have a look at what's going on, it is possible that within the next day to two days they can identify the problem," Gondek said.

"And then it would take as long as it takes to do the repair. Right now, we can't even tell you what the repair is, but I think we're looking at at least another day or two to be able to identify what's going on."

Early Thursday morning, an Alberta Emergency Alert warning was issued, saying Calgary's water supply is in a critical state.

The provincial alert, issued to Calgarians' mobile phones and local broadcast systems at 6:37 a.m., said the water main break along 16 Avenue N.W. has affected the city's ability to provide water to communities and ensure adequate water is available to support emergency fire suppression.

During a press conference on Thursday morning at the city's Emergency Operations Centre, Sue Henry, chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA), called the water main break a "critical situation."

Colleen Underwood/CBC
Colleen Underwood/CBC

At the morning press conference, Gondek said the provincial government is being kept apprised and is working with the city to navigate the ongoing situation.

Water wagons set up

Just before 7 p.m. Wednesday, the break caused streets to suddenly flood in the Montgomery area around Home Road, forcing the closure of several roads and intersections, including 16th Avenue in both directions.

The Trans-Canada Highway remains closed eastbound between Sarcee Trail and Home Road N.W. The highway is also closed westbound between Home Road and 49 Street N.W. On the city's website, it says the closure notice is stated to be in effect until Monday morning.

Despite the size of the water main break, Gondek said no businesses were flooded.

She said baseball diamonds at Shouldice Athletic Park had been under water, but added they were being remediated.

Helen Pike/CBC
Helen Pike/CBC

The break also affected water pressure in several other areas, including the communities of Parkdale, West Hillhurst, Hillhurst and Scarboro.

"The city has enacted its Municipal Emergency Plan and currently we do not have an estimate for how long the boil-water advisory or the water restrictions will be necessary," the city said in a release Thursday.

The boil-water advisory requires all residents and businesses in Bowness to bring water to a rolling boil for at least one minute before any consumption, including:

  • Drinking.

  • Brushing teeth.

  • Cleaning raw foods.

  • Preparing infant formula or juices.

  • Making ice.

The Calgary Board of Education says seven of its schools have been affected. Water has been shut off at:

  • Belvedere Parkway School.

  • Bowcroft School.

  • Bowness High School.

  • Thomas B. Riley School.

  • Discovering Choices – Bowness.

  • Two Wood's Homes sites.

Portable toilets and bottled water is being made available at these sites, the board said.

Water wagons have been deployed at the Bowness Community Association, Bow Crest Nursing Home, Bow View Manor nursing home, Our Lady of the Assumption School, Belvedere Parkway School, Bow Centre Seniors Home, James Shouldice Manor, and beside the Bowness Car Wash at 6540 Bowness Rd. N.W., the city says.

The water supply alert also affects nearby communities on Calgary's water supply system, including Airdrie, Strathmore, and Chestermere. Residents of those communities are also under a mandatory outdoor water-usage ban, the province said.

All city-operated aquatic and fitness facilities are closed, along with all municipal arenas, except those with non-ice dry pads, the city announced on the social media site X.

The YMCA also announced that as a result of the request to limit non-essential use of water, there would be no access to its pools and arenas.

Due to the restricted water use, a citywide fire ban also remains in effect, including in Calgary parks.

Tony Seskus/CBC
Tony Seskus/CBC

Many residents affected 

Ross Sisson, who owns a hi-fi shop in Bowness and lives in Montgomery, said he couldn't get between the two places on Wednesday night due to all the road closures.

He said he had low water pressure at his home on Wednesday evening, but that it appeared to be back to normal on Thursday. Still, he was observing the city's guidance to boil water.

Sisson said the main break hadn't affected his business, but noticed a number of restaurants in the area had to close Wednesday night.

"It was unbelievable," he said of the torrent of water released from the broken main. "People were calling me wondering if I needed to rent a kayak."

He said he wasn't impacted by any flooding, but Sisson voiced his concerns with the condition of aging infrastructure in the area.

Acton Clarkin/CBC
Acton Clarkin/CBC

"The infrastructure down here … is very old," he said. "They keep repairing and not replacing. And the amount of taxes they're charging, they should fix it up."

John Franzky, a partner at Bow Cycle & Sports in Bowness, said he learned about the water main break from a colleague who texted him last night.

He said his business would do what it could to help by limiting water use.

"I think, everybody, just be respectful and be cool for a couple of days and see what happens," Franzky said.

Though he said it's nothing like the floods of 2013, when the Bow River burst its banks and flooded nearby homes and businesses, the scope of water released is still remarkable.

"This isn't your average, little water main break on whatever cul-de-sac," he said.

"We all know this is kind of real big infrastructure problems. And, you know, I'm curious, how do you fix something like this?"

Acton Clarkin/CBC
Acton Clarkin/CBC