City of Calgary officials have deemed the water main break that occurred on Wednesday evening in the city's northwest as catastrophic.

In an update on Thursday afternoon, officials said that the break occurred in a key water supply pipe that carries water across the city, which has impacted not only water availability in Calgary, but in other neighbouring communities including Airdrie, Strathmore, and Chestermere.

"We've narrowed down the location of the break and our crews are now digging the site and continuing to take some water and debris out of the hole. Our crews are working around the clock to move as quickly as possible to repair the feeder main," said Nancy Mackay, City of Calgary's Director of Water Services.

She explained that a feeder main is akin to a large artery, which moves drinking water from the treated water reservoirs to the network of other mains that deliver drinking water across Calgary and the surrounding region.

"[This is the] Bearspaw South Feeder Main, which serves 1.2 million Calgarians as well as our regional customers living in Airdrie, Chestermere and Strathmore. This Bearspaw Main is the most critical feeder meeting in Calgary's water system, allowing for the movement of water to the east and south parts of the city, away from our largest water treatment plant in the north of the city."

The feeder main is 11 kilometres long, and it varies up to two meters in width. 

"We will take the time to get to the exact location and determine our approach once we're able to surface the pipe and we'll then be able to see the size; where we still have not been able to see what exactly needs to be replaced, but we are working on a repair plan regardless," Mackay added. 

The feeder main was installed in 1975 and regular asset maintenance is completed on the city's pipes.

"95 per cent of our distribution system is rated good or very good. That said, this is a catastrophic break that is impacting so many of us. Our priority is public health and re-establishing services for those who are without water, when we complete those repairs, we will certainly fully investigate the cause of the break," she said. 

Airdrie continues to be under level four water restrictions due the Calgary's water main break, as Airdrie receives its water from Calgary. On Thursday afternoon, City of Airdrie officials informed the public that all City-operated aquatic facilities would close at 4 p.m.

"Genesis Place fitness centre and non-water-based programs will remain available. All arenas will close at 4 p.m., except for those with dry pads (non-ice). Some ice bookings will be impacted, and groups will be notified," The city stated in its update.

All impacted programs, classes, and lessons will be automatically cancelled and a credit applied to accounts. These closures are taking place in line with the City of Calgary, which is closing these facilities as a fire suppression contingency plan.

Municipal enforcement is also out in the community educating users on level four water restrictions as a primary approach.

"Businesses using large volumes of non-essential water are restricted. This includes water used for construction, exterior window washing, pesticide application and washing outdoor surfaces (except where required for health and safety regulations).

Airdrie's Fire Department has also put all of its training on hold.

During level four outdoor water restrictions, residents are asked to not:

  • Water lawns, gardens, trees, and shrubs by any method.

  • Wash down any outdoor surfaces, including exterior building surfaces, windows, sidewalks, driveways, or walkways of any sort unless your business requires them to for health and safety reasons.

  • Wash cars on driveways or streets.

  • Fill outdoor decorative features, fountains, pools, or hot tubs.

  • Use potable water for construction purposes such as grading, compaction, or dust control

There are no boil water advisories in effect within the City of Airdrie and water remains safe to drink.

"To ensure we share the water currently available, we are asking Airdrie residents to immediately restrict indoor water use by taking the following voluntary actions:"

  • Use dishwasher and washing machine only when required and with full loads.
  • Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth or shaving.
  • Limit showers to five minutes or less and keep baths shallow.
  • Scrape plates clean rather than rinsing food off.
  • Turn off humidifiers and ice machines, delay washing vehicles,
  • Businesses using large volumes of non-essential water, such as laundromats and car washes, are being asked to reduce water use.
  • Businesses using water to deliver a product or service that is life-sustaining for people and animals are exempt. Other exemptions include any businesses that must use water to meet health code standards, such as health centres and restaurants. As of Friday morning, Calgary is also under  Stage 4 outdoor watering restrictions, while a Boil Water Advisory remains in place for all residents and businesses in Bowness.

"Alberta Health Services and The City of Calgary will continue to monitor the situation, including sampling and testing of the drinking water to ensure it is safe for consumption. This advisory is being issued as a precautionary measure. This advisory will remain in effect until further notice."

The City of Calgary added that Community Standards will be taking a compliance-first approach with both businesses and residents while Stage 4 water restrictions remain in place.

"Restrictions include no use of sprinklers, hoses with spray nozzle (only for gardens, trees and shrubs) and washing outdoors (cars, windows, exterior building surfaces, sidewalks, driveways or walkways). Continued non-compliance will result in fines starting at $3,000."

City of Calgary pool facilities are closed.

"Southland Leisure Centre & Village Square Leisure Centre: the weight room, non-water-based registered and drop-in programs are still available. The water parks, wave pools and showers are closed. All impacted programs, classes and lessons will be automatically cancelled and refunded."

While all arenas are also closed.

"... Except those with dry pads (non-ice). Some ice bookings will be impacted. Groups will be notified."

Athletic parks will have disruptions, though will remain open.

"... No showers are available at City athletic parks."

Fire Hall Bulk Water Stations are temporarily closed until further notice unit the water restriction is lifted.

Due to the major water main break and Level 4 water restrictions in the city, the Calgary Fire Department (CFD) has issued a city-wide full fire ban prohibiting the use of fire pits, recreational campfires, outdoor fireplaces and other open flame devices that burn solid fuels barbecues and stoves (charcoal briquettes or wood). The fire ban will be in effect until further notice.

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