The SLS Centre is coming to the aid of Calgarians during their water crisis. 

About 15 different aquatics organizations have been in contact with the SLS Centre to access pool time for their training and practices, say centre CEO Erin Wagner and Catriona Hill, SLS Centre director of experience.

The challenge is, of course, Cochrane is about 40,000 and Calgary is a city of 1.6 million.

It reminds Hill of a Venn diagram, where you can only get it perfect for so many people so much of the time.

"At this point, we haven't accommodated all of them," says Hill. "We're trying to balance and juggle the schedule to make sure that we can do the best possible and trying to get creative around opportunities that we can make for them as well, because we want to give everybody the chance to be in the water.

"There's not one person or not one group who's going to get all the things that they want in this instance, but we're definitely trying to give all of them some access to be able to keep moving their training forward."

CEO Wagner says they realize it's going to have an impact upon the community in the short run, but ask people to be patient and understanding about the challenge being faced in our neighbouring community. Late last fall, the shoe was on the other foot when Cochrane had its own water/wastewater crisis.

"It's our responsibility to be available to step up and help and we just appreciate that they are being empathetic to the situation and working with us to make sure that we can best meet the requirements for everybody."

This is an important time for aquatics athletes in the hunt for qualifying times for high-level competitions, provincials and beyond.

"A lot of these kids still have goals and dreams that I keep calling 'Olympic rings in their eyes'. Not being able to get in the water and train has been quite devastating to some of them. It's pretty impressive to see the pool at 6 in the morning with all of these youth who are up and out and all of their parents who have driven them all the way out to Cochrane so that they can train."

The aquatic centre is hosting an important invitational meet from Friday to Sunday. Most of the athletes are from Calgary, but some are from as far away as Prince Edward Island.

"It's qualifying races, qualifying times for some competitions, which is why I think it's so important that we find a way to accommodate them here," says Hill.

The meet was originally scheduled to be held at the MNP Community and Sport Centre in Calgary and involves 400 to 500 athletes.

Hill says it won't be of the scope of what they would have had at MNP, but they've worked with the host Nose Hill club to develop several races with limited rotation. Only the athletes racing will be in the pool area. The ones waiting to compete will be staged elsewhere.

Select time blocks will remain open for drop-in lane swimming, and the leisure pool, warm therapy pool and water slides will remain open for public drop-in throughout the weekend.

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"Traditionally, when we have a swim meet, our water slides are off because of the noise, but it was one of our requirements to be able to help these guys out that we were still able to provide some service for community drop-in."

A full schedule of current drop-in times is available and can be found on the SLS Centre website.

"We wanted to give the community and our regulars a little bit more visibility so they could pick and choose what's likely the quieter times for them to come. I think mid-morning around 10:30 is one of the best times to come in at the moment, but it's all available and visible to see on our website." 

Some Calgary families have been coming to the SLS Centre on their own accord. Last Saturday alone, the aquatic centre had a 35 per cent week-over-week increase in pool use. Some of that may have been weather driven, but typically in poor weather the pool sees an 18 per cent increase.

When Cochrane faced its own water crisis late last fall, the Calgary YMCA was quick to step up to offer free access to residents and SLS Centre members.

"We reciprocated at the beginning of the Calgary water crisis last week, and we continue to do that," says CEO Wagner. "We're busy with our own community here in the facility, but wherever we can help, we will help."

She says they've been receiving plenty of positive feedback.

"Just based upon the amount of reach outs that we're getting, you realize how important recreation is to individuals when it's taken away. It's something we take for granted."

She praises her team for stepping up.

"I personally want to commend the team here on being so flexible and creative and able to respond quickly to things that happen in our community and abroad. It just shows what we stand for here at SLS Center."

From the comments they've been receiving, many of the first-time users from Calgary have come to realize the SLS Centre is a special place.

"It's a bit of a surprise to people, but they're certainly loving what they're finding out here, and I anticipate that we will see people who are visiting us for the first time now coming back in the future to enjoy, enjoy our services and the events and activities that we have to offer," says Hill.