Skip to content

Town of Cochrane lends support to Calgary officials for water break response

Calgary received more bad water news over the weekend as Cochrane officials offered moral support
Construction crews worked overtime to repair a broken water pipe at Riverfront Park in Cochrane last fall.

Calgarians received more bad water news last weekend and the mayor declared a State of Local Emergency as officials braced residents for a few more weeks of shortages as they deal with newly-discovered weak spots in the supply line.

It might be hard for City of Calgary staff to think of the glass being half full right now, but administrators can take some comfort in the knowledge their neighbours in Cochrane faced eerily similar challenges less than a year ago and they made it past the crisis.

From engineering specialists to the mayor, a number of Cochrane’s emergency responders experienced in water repairs and shortages have been reaching out to offer their moral and technical support to their counterparts in Calgary.

When the Town of Cochrane administrators monitored the unfolding saga last week, it was like déjà vu. They have been there and done that less than a year ago.

Cochranites well remember rationing water, as a sewage and water line breach at Riverfront Park resulted in the Town of Cochrane declaring a State of Local Emergency (SOLE) last year. The story garnered national and even international media attention at one point.

The contractor working on what the Town calls the Syphon Twinning Project broke the sanitary sewage pipe and the water pipe, resulting in raw sewage being discharged into the Bow River for about 36 hours.

The Town was notified at 6 pm on Oct. 21 that the contractor had hit the pipelines, and the Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC) was activated at 8:30, which allowed them to work with the City of Calgary, Rocky View County, Alberta Environment and Protected Areas, and Alberta Health Services.

The Town provided updates at daily news conferences and the story gained national coverage,

A Water Restriction was put in place the next morning and water was restricted to local hotels and a car dealership as work got underway to repair the lines.

The SOLE was declared Oct. 24, and lifted two days later as water levels at reservoirs came back up to acceptable levels. Drinking water quality was never compromised.

By Nov. 10 regular water service had been restored to households on Riverside Place and temporary road closures had been lifted.

Calgary declared a SOLE on the weekend, and officials delivered more bad news – crews discovered the feeder line may need more maintenance work than first anticipated.

Cochrane reaches out to Calgary

The SLS Centre has opened the doors to its shower stalls to Calgarians short of water looking to clean up.

The reaching out at the Town started at the top when Mayor Jeff Genung texted Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek shortly after the news broke that they had a major breach of the water feeder line.

Genung said he feels her pain.

“Mayor Gondek and her team and her administration, what they’re going through – it’s eerily similar to what we experienced here,” he said.

“I just told her I know what you’re going through, if there’s anything we can do to help, just reach out, we’re here for them,” Genung said.

Genung said municipalities learning from each other is a two-way street, as he watches the way Calgary is handling their crisis. He said he particularly liked some of their communications techniques, which he’d like to see duplicated here.

He said when in a crisis it’s human nature to start asking what could’ve been done better.

His advice for Gondek is: “Hey – it’s an accident. Accidents happen, and you deal with it,” he said.

One thing he learned last year and saw again this week in Calgary was how interrelated fire and water are.

“It’s the enormity of losing reservoirs and then not being able to fight a fire. It’s like ‘Oh man, what else?’ That’s just the way emergencies unfold,” he said.

“You just don’t know what’s going to happen next, and that takes a toll on people.”

Pinky De La Cruz is Cochrane’s Director of Engineering & Asset Services. She also extended an offer of support to her counterpart in Calgary.

“We have a good relationship with them. They provided us a lot of valuable support dealing with our wastewater incident last year,” De La Cruz said.

‘So I reached out to my contact there to let her know we’re here to support them,” she said.

In times like this, it may be just as important to offer moral as well as technical support, she added. De La Cruz did both.

She said Calgary has a number of experts in asset and construction management, which will bode well for them as the incident unfolds.

Genung has been monitoring how Calgary has handled their situation, noting all the similarities to Cochrane last year, and he came away with a new perspective.

“I’m pretty proud of our response, just the way we handled things. It wasn’t perfect, but in a crisis, in an emergency, you just take it day by day, hour by hour, and reflecting back, I’m pretty happy with how we handled our emergency.”

New type of water license for Cochrane

Cochrane has finalized a new and innovative water licensing agreement with the province that saves the Town millions of dollars while addressing a looming supply issue at the same time.

The province, as of 2006, put a stop to anyone in the Bow basin even applying for a new license. At a council meeting March 6, administration presented a report estimating that at current growth rates, current water license limits (to a population of 40,000) would be reached in four to five years.

The Girl Guides stepped forward, offering a transfer of their water license, much to the relief of the Town. Then the Town went to Alberta Environment and Protected Areas with a proposal to have a sort of hybrid license.

Drew Hyndman, the Town’s executive director of development and infrastructure services, said the new license will save Cochrane a lot.

“It’s innovative. What it focuses on is the pairing of a non-consumptive license that the Girl Guides had, with a consumptive license, so essentially, you aren’t required to go to the market and just obtain consumptive licenses. From a financial perspective, it’s much more beneficial to us,” Hyndman said.

Under a non-consumptive license, as much as 80 per cent of the water is returned to the river after treatment.

The new approach will likely save the Town approximately $20 million.

Howard May

About the Author: Howard May

Howard was a journalist with the Calgary Herald and with the Abbotsford Times in BC, where he won a BC/Yukon Community Newspaper Association award for best outdoor writing.
Read more


push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks