Somehow, the word "critical" isn't getting the message across of how grim the situation is with Cochrane's water supply. Perhaps 24-hour supply provides a clearer picture.
Further details were shared at a press conference today (Oct. 24) that provided shocking insight as to why the community must curb its appetite for water until the situation can be brought under control, and why a State of Local Emergency was declared.
Treated water continues to gush from the pipeline that ruptured on Oct. 21 and has put Cochrane in a tough battle to retain a water supply to all neighbourhoods. Exactly how much is being lost was not quantified at this point by officials, only that it's significant.
"I think that we are into a 24-hour period is most concerning," said Town CAO Mike Derricott during a press conference early this afternoon, "and this is the efforts to haul water is what is extending that for us and our success and efficiency in that exercise may increase that time. As well, we hope improved conservation efforts by our community members will also give us more time as well."
The town is currently trucking water from Harmony and expects to be hauling and accepting water from the City of Calgary starting tomorrow, now that it's been determined the city's treatment process is compatible with that of Cochrane.
"The water hauling operation is extending our time frames, but please, water conservation remains critical to that effort that we hope will give us enough time to appropriately isolate the break and fix it so that we can return to filling those reservoirs."
He says regional mutual aid partners are also ready to respond with fire suppression protection if necessary.
Shawn Polley, Cochrane fire chief, and emergency coordination centre director (ECCD), says the water line repair is challenging.
"We are unable to isolate this line, so we are continuing to lose water. While we would normally just close surrounding values, attempts to isolate the break have not been successful and is the cause for our concerns."
Mayor Jeff Genung expanded on that answer, explaining the line break's location and what it's utilized for is what's causing the issue.
"So, if you can, imagine a trench filling full of water from this leak. Crews can't get down to the line itself to actually do the repair until we have the ability to shut off the water. Shutting off the water is a last resort, as we've all spoken to today, that has other implications that go into days and longer days of getting the repair fix.
"At this point, we're focused on trying to get that water shut off so the repair can happen, and then turn the water back on without disrupting water to any business or residence. That, again, is a last resort. So yeah, getting to that line so the trench is not full of water is priority number one."
Polley outstretched his arms to illustrate these are large 450-millimetre pipelines.
"We're not talking about a garden hose. We're talking about big concrete vaults, the ones that you see on big infrastructure projects. That's the complexity we're dealing with here."
He says fortunately the temporary solution put in place yesterday to stop the wastewater from flowing into the Bow River continues to hold, and stresses the water is safe to drink.
"Water quality is not our problem. Water quantity is our problem."
Polley says a rapid decline in reservoir levels overnight led to declaring the state of emergency.
Should the water supply have to be cut off from some areas of town, the protocol required to restart the system is extensive and takes several days to accomplish. It's an option they wish to avoid.
"There are two major concerns when you depressurize the system," explains Derricott. "One, that there can be additional damage to the system involving leakage etcetera. As well, there is an extensive process of flushing, disinfection, and testing that would have to go in place prior to the water system being usable again, and that can take with the system depending on the significance of the shutdown."
Mayor Jeff Genung said frankly, the initial water restrictions put in place aren't working.
"Yesterday, we saw the highest single water use day in the month of October by our residents, and it's not related to the leak, it was people consuming water from our reservoir."
Derricott confirmed declaring SOLE does authorize the town to implement stringent business restrictions, but at this point, he says the larger water users in the community have been very responsive to requests from the town. Nor do they want to be heavy-handed in enforcing the restrictions put in place, preferring to rely upon residents to do the right thing.
Mayor Genung said there has been a tireless effort to rectify the situation by town employees with the support of the contractors, as well as Rocky View County, City of Calgary, and other communities. He applauded how they, and the province, have come to Cochrane's aid.
"I'm thankful for the cooperation and support we are seeing from the provincial government, neighboring municipalities have just been excellent, local businesses and the response efforts continue with all of those parties, especially the city of Calgary and Rocky View County and the community of Harmony. I'd also like to extend my gratitude to all of the Cochrane employees who've been working around the clock to rectify the break in our water system."
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