Water the city and province officials do?
June 8, 2024 5:18 AM   Subscribe


Calgary is now relying one plant to produce water for a population of nearly 1.5 million people

I read this plant as plant and immediately converted it to some kind of tree tapped with a spile situation. (It's Canada, they're syrup people, this almost made sense.)

My US-midwest brain always thinks of Canada as a really big extension of the Great Lakes region (land rich, water abundant) but that's really not true at all is it
posted by phunniemee at 6:11 AM on June 8 [4 favorites]

I am absolutely not making fun of Calgarians in their crisis, I want to be clear. This is some serious shit.

My US-midwest brain always thinks of Canada as a really big extension of the Great Lakes region (land rich, water abundant) but that's really not true at all is it

TBH, most of us live along the strip bordering the US, and the heaviest population definitely lives along the Great Lakes, myself included (what up, Lake Ontario!).
posted by Kitteh at 6:13 AM on June 8 [4 favorites]

I think that many of us take our utilities and the infrastructure that maintains them for granted. I mean, they’re always just there, doing their thing and when they stops it’s usually fixed in a while, no emergency. What Calgary is going through is scary and could happen anywhere, and is an indication of how fragile things really are. It’s definitely a warning shot and all cities in Canada are watching.
posted by ashbury at 6:28 AM on June 8 [12 favorites]

Oh believe me, I am having very concerning thoughts about our water supply, despite living next to a very very large body of water.
posted by Kitteh at 6:32 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]

"What I can tell you is that this piece of infrastructure was identified for maintenance work earlier this year, and that work took place in April. And that's a good news story that our water teams are very well aware of how to maintain our infrastructure."

That… seems like the opposite of good, actually?
posted by rhymedirective at 6:34 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]

I'm shocked to hear about Canada having water supply issues - Canada has the largest supply of freshwater on the planet.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 6:46 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]

Not for long at this rate.
posted by Kitteh at 6:55 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]

TBH, most of us live along the strip bordering the US…

One of the fun facts to haul out (to Americans like me, anyway) is that a large majority of the Canadian population lives south of Seattle.  That salient Canada makes south into the U.S. alongside the Great Lakes is surprisingly deep,  The easternmost town of Tennessee is closer to Canada than it is to Memphis.   Heck, just living in northern California puts you north of the U.S.–Canadian border.

Best of luck, Calgary; hope you get it sorted soon.   That's a rough situation.  May the silver lining to this be Calgary works on its water redundancy.  Being brought low by such a common point of failure like a line break seems like something worth designing to avoid.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 6:55 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]

If you know anything about the current Premier of Alberta, there will not be a good or rational solution. Alberta's governance is in deep denial about climate change, and Calgary officials are begging their residents to reduce their use.
posted by Kitteh at 6:58 AM on June 8 [6 favorites]

There’s a difference between having lots of freshwater nearby and having a good regular supply of potable drinking water. Even places that are remote and unspoilt enough to basically take water straight from a reservoir add chlorine and filter it. Having one source with no backup for 1.5 million customers is already crisis mode.
posted by rikschell at 7:02 AM on June 8 [7 favorites]

I do, in fact, not know anything about Alberta's current Premier.  Which is why I phrased it in the manner I did, ha.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 7:03 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]

It's cool, los pantalones del muerte! There are so many shitty people in power, no one can be expected to remember them all.
posted by Kitteh at 7:06 AM on June 8 [5 favorites]

In Cape Town we went right to the brink of running out of water in 2017, but that was because we ran out of water because of a drought.

This seems frightening on a whole other level.
posted by Zumbador at 7:26 AM on June 8

Well, there’s serious drought problems in Alberta as well, actually. It’s all very bad.
posted by ashbury at 7:40 AM on June 8 [3 favorites]

Water utilities should charge based on household size. They could sell you very cheap water for your household's basic needs (cooking, washing, etc.) and then jack the price way up for water use above that level.
posted by pracowity at 7:41 AM on June 8 [4 favorites]

How long will it take to fix Calgary's huge water main break? At least a week, former city engineer says

“We actually had done some work on this one — because it’s such a critical one, that’s part of our due diligence is making sure that we’ve got good backup plans for when something goes wrong,” Mackay said Thursday.
In the intervening years, the city has kept in storage several two-metre-long feeder pipes that can be used to replace old ones, Buker said. “That’s a huge salvation — that’s probably going to save them a week or two of time right there.”
Those things should make me feel better, but somehow don't (even when prepped, things are very fragile).
posted by mazola at 8:04 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]

Yikes, Calgarians don't have enough water for the next four days or so, much like the amount of time it will take to repair the problem.

I haven't done a search but I hope to God someone did an Immortan Joe meme with Danielle Smith.
posted by Kitteh at 8:11 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]

Folks, Calgary has an issue with broken infrastructure; this has nothing to do with climate change or drought.

There is a large river running through the middle of the city that is fed by snow melt from the Rocky Mountains, which means there is plenty of water flowing down it right now. By my calculations, the Bow River alone is running about 250 litres per resident per hour currently. The problem is with the pipes, not the water itself.
posted by ssg at 8:32 AM on June 8 [21 favorites]

The problem is with the pipes, not the water itself.

Fucking Bowser.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 11:05 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]

This is the kind of thing that underscores my annoyance with occasional handwringing about water shortage stories. Potable water just doesn't happen. It has to be made in one way or another. At some point, governments/communities/societies have to decide how they want to continue existing, and what they are willing to do to make sure it does. If indeed they do.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:18 AM on June 8 [3 favorites]

We have something similar in NZ; Wellington has crumbling water infrastructure due to decades of under-investment. As a result, we had various levels of water rationing the last couple of summers and people were advised to get external tanks for rain-water collection. The issue was not with water supply, but that so much of it was leaking out of pipes on its way to house-holds.
posted by phigmov at 11:42 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]

This bumps up against some worrying trends, which aren't specific to Calgary exactly but are certainly present:
  • A small, but unfortunately very motivated and organized, cohort lost their fucking minds at COVID restrictions and have been wallowing in rage ever since.
  • A recent push by city counsel for broad zoning reform to reduce the pressures of the housing shortage has similarly riled up property owners over the last few months. Acrimonious public counsel meetings, threats of lawsuit and recall votes, endless letters to the editor and emotionally heightened and hyperbolic language in public discussion.
  • An attempt by the city, possibly misguided, to reduce waste by requiring reusable bags for shopping and instituting a fee for food takeout bags and utensils met with so much pushback that it was rescinded.
All this adds up to a segment of the population that is getting actively hostile towards any collective action that involves personal inconvenience. If you're being asked to not powerwash your F150 so that there's still pressure at the hydrants if your neighbor's house catches on fire and your first impulse is to do it twice as often, there's the possibility of some unfortunate outcomes.
posted by figurant at 11:42 AM on June 8 [15 favorites]

Yeah, even though we live next to a frickin’ tropical rain forest, where > 100 inches/year of rain is not unusual, it is also not at all unusual for our municipal water taps to run dry, usually due to issues with pumping and filtration equipment. So almost every property owner has to invest in a private cistern and water pump. So much waste and needless duplicated effort. But due to our colonial status, the problem of funding infrastructure improvements is basically impossible to solve collectively in any long term way at present.
posted by mubba at 11:46 AM on June 8 [3 favorites]

There is a large river running through the middle of the city that is fed by snow melt from the Rocky Mountains, which means there is plenty of water flowing down it right now.

yeah, last time I was in Calgary (over thirty years ago), it was pretty much exactly this time of year and the big issue then was possible flooding (the Bow and Elbow rivers). As I recall, water levels peaked just short of what would have been officially disastrous.
posted by philip-random at 12:05 PM on June 8

It like the amount of snow we get and how fast it melts is variable year to year and getting more so every year; for some reason. /hamburger

This particular crisis isn't directly related to climate change but it is exasperated by the anti reality attitudes expressed by the anti tax, anti vax, anti public services (except one more lane bro), anti community so flagrantly represented by the racist Konvoy et. al.

Calgary is spawling it's way to crisis (suburbs do not pay their own way) and a big chunk of the electorate is actively working against any mitigation efforts and making rabid efforts to avoid being taxed to pay for infrastructure.

This quote
"What I can tell you is that this piece of infrastructure was identified for maintenance work earlier this year, and that work took place in April. And that's a good news story that our water teams are very well aware of how to maintain our infrastructure."
uses some pretty precise language. The teams are well aware yet a massive failure occurred sure sounds like the teams were prevented in some manner of doing the task to the best if their abilities. And I won't be shocked in the least if memos appear where someone on those teams said "If you don't do X, Y, Z a massive failure is going to occur" and X, Y, and Z weren't done because of money and here we are.
posted by Mitheral at 12:40 PM on June 8 [4 favorites]

I came in here to comment because I'm not sure the thread has heard from someone living in Calgary, and it's been my home for over 40 years.

Calgary has two major rivers, the Bow and the Elbow, both fed from the Rockies, and was founded at their confluence. The area has been in danger of desertification for decades. We experience catastrophic floods in late spring when the meltwater from the Rockies turns the lovely rivers into raging torrents, and drought the rest of the year, including during winter snow season.

The current crisis is that somewhere along an 11km stretch of the water pipeline there has been catastrophic damage. The damage has been located; targeted repairs are underway which include pumping the remaining water out of the pipes to effect repairs, reflowing the water, and then flushing the pipes free from debris. A couple of years ago repairs were being made along this same stretch and some people had the foresight to order and stockpile "spare parts", extra sections of huge, specially constructed conduit.

The lifespan of these underground waterways is about 50 years, and the pipeline is 46 years old. The only reason the repairs can be made in the 7-10 day timeframe the city is talking about is because the parts are "in stock" and because some decision-makers within the municipal government happened to have excellent judgement. The only reason I know all this is because it's being reported in our local media, not because I have my finger on the pulse of infrastructure.

Southern Alberta, where Calgary is located, is one of the sunniest and windiest places in Canada (some years southern Saskatchewan takes 1st place). It would be an ideal place to develop both wind and solar resources. The city is also the corporate headquarters of much of the Canadian fossil fuel industry.

I don't want to turn this thread into a "fossil fuels are all evil and renewables are all good" debate. I assume that climate change has exacerbated all the problems. It probably doesn't help that the city is growing faster than its tax base or infrastructure. According to provincial government statistics, the city's population increased over 9% in 5 years. If this thread becomes the polarized pile-on typical here at MF, I won't participate because what I've heard and seen of the debate tells me that neither side is even interested in a nuanced discussion. Each side believes its arguments are far too urgent and clear cut to be constrained by those restrictions, if only the other side would forswear its evil ways.

Calgary, or even Alberta or Canada, is no different from anywhere else in the world in that wealthy elites want to maintain the conditions that guarantee their continued wealth, even if large numbers of people, perhaps even the majority of people, suffer as a result. I am not wealthy. I live in the poorer, racially browner-skinned northeast quadrant of the city. We don't get much by way of flooding being far from those beautiful rivers and their expensive riverfront properties. We do get a tornado or two each summer. But I am as guilty as anyone of wanting to keep my little piece of wealth and convenience intact. It's probably unnecessary to note that I am on the left of the political spectrum in Alberta, although the meaning of the distinction is quite different in different areas of Canada. My comments are coloured by this.

Yes, a potable water crisis in a large city fed by two large rivers, in a country containing a huge amount of the world's fresh water, in a highly developed, technological society seems odd. But water evaporates here faster than it precipitates (because of the sun and wind); climate change and high population growth have magnified the effects of both (those waterways weren't expected to serve quite as large a population quite so soon); and people will be people and want to protect their own interests. So here we are.
posted by angiep at 3:17 PM on June 8 [16 favorites]

I honestly had no idea this was that big of a deal. Granted, I was out of town until basically now, but I saw the headline as a water main break in Calgary and did not connect that as being anything tremendously serious. Other than to the people who's homes and businesses were flooded. At best I thought "slow news day on CBC", and then promptly drove outside my coverage area (an excellent way of dealing with the news, 5 stars, would recommend).

It was only in January that Edmonton had an emergency alert telling us all to curtail water usage and non-essential users were fully cut-off for several days as one of our water treatment plants was down. To our credit: we did dramatically cut back and we did not run out of water. I imagine that Calgarians will similarly step-up, people can surprise you like that when you give them the chance. (The scuttle I heard, around the water cooler, was that EPCOR flooded an MCC at the E.L. Smith, which is an expensive mistake).

Calgary and Southern Alberta are also in a multi-year drought and for several months have been grappling with what to do about that long term. The reality is that regardless of the rivers running through it, Calgary *could* run out of water because of who gets priority under the Water Act. Something so grave that even the UCP has decided they need to do something about it. At one point they floated the idea of connecting the North Saskatchewan watershed to the south, much to the hew and cry of literally anyone who has ever even heard of invasive species.
posted by selenized at 4:32 PM on June 8 [4 favorites]

I'm shocked to hear about Canada having water supply issues - Canada has the largest supply of freshwater on the planet.

We sure do but access to that supply is extremely inequitable. TLDR we stole it from the original inhabitants, ruined it and now many of their communities lack access to clean drinking water and are on decades-long boil water advisories.

When I lived in Vancouver in there was an issue in 2006 with one of the sources of drinking water for the city for almost two weeks, though we still had access to non-potable water. I can't imagine it being *all* water. We definitely take our water and other utilities too much for granted and it's too bad it takes incidents like this to give us wake up calls about just how fragile our infrastructure is and how we should waste less of what we have as well as come up with alternative sources to divert some of our usage.

Don't even get me *started* about us using pristine drinking water to flush our toilets and most of us virgin frigging source paper to wipe our butts. I cannot even.
posted by urbanlenny at 6:44 PM on June 8 [7 favorites]

Totally agree with you urbanlenny about the criminal waste of scarce resources to use toilets.
posted by angiep at 10:27 PM on June 8

I only just this morning realized that the post title reads as a pun when pronounced with a Canadian accent. I really needed that laugh. Thanks.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:58 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]

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