Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek apologizes for poor water crisis communication
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek apologizes for poor water crisis communication

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek formally apologized to residents on Sunday for the city’s failure to communicate effectively during the ongoing water crisis. 

The apology comes as the city struggles to repair a critical 78-inch feeder main that fractured last Wednesday, leading to widespread water restrictions and a boil water advisory for the Bowness neighbourhood.

For the boil water advisory, all residents and businesses in Bowness are advised to bring water to a rolling boil for a full minute before drinking, brushing teeth, cleaning raw foods, preparing infant formula or juice, and making ice. Water in all other Calgary communities is safe to drink.

Gondek explained that information had come slowly and was confusing. She said that despite the stressful situation for everyone involved, she’s heard Calgarians’ concerns.

“In a nutshell, we need to do a lot better for Calgarians,” said Gondek.

“Going forward, we will do a much better job of explaining what’s happened, the expected timeline to get back to normal, and what we need from you in the way of water conservation,” she said.

This improved communication promises a daily livestreamed update to the media and all Calgarians at 8:30 am from Gondek. The Emergency Operations Centre will also brief the media daily in the afternoon on the progress of the repairs. 

Gondek followed through on her promise Monday morning, offering Calgarians an update on the water break.

During her first update, Gondek informed Calgarians that on Sunday, they used 457 million litres, which she said was great given the supply available was 620 million litres. Before the water main break last Wednesday, Calgarians were consuming 650 million litres a day.

“Please keep this up. The reason that we have to have this extra supply on hand is also for any emergencies that we might face that the Calgary Fire Department has to deal with. So, I am incredibly impressed with how well Calgarians have done,” said Gondek.

She said all data provided was preliminary and that finalized numbers would be provided at the afternoon conference at 2:00 pm. 

The water main break in the Montgomery/Bowness area on June 5 has significantly disrupted water services, necessitating a city-wide effort to conserve water. Calgary’s infrastructure has been unable to keep up with demand, prompting urgent calls from city officials for residents to reduce their water usage.

The manager of drinking water distribution with the City of Calgary, Chris Huston, explained that the water break resulted in Calgary losing 40% of its water supply.

Comparatively, at a press conference on Saturday, Calgary’s director of water services, Nancy Mackay, said that Calgarians had used about 480 million litres of water the day prior, compared to a supply of about the same.

“I can’t stress this enough: we will run out of water if we don’t take action individually right now. This is not a joke. It is not some conspiracy. It is a fact,” said Gondek.

During a visit to Bowness, Mayor Gondek engaged with residents and volunteers, who emphasized the need for clearer communication and more visible signage regarding the boil water advisory and locations of water trucks. In response, the Mayor promised to enhance the city’s communication strategy with plain language and multilingual updates.

Calgarians initially reduced their water consumption by 25% and are now closer to a 30% reduction.

Calgary’s water restrictions remain at Stage 4, which is the highest the scale goes. All outdoor water use is completely banned. Calgarians are encouraged to keep showers to three minutes or less, do dishes or laundry only with full loads, scrape plates rather than rinsing or use paper plates, turn off the tap when brushing teeth, flush the toilet much less than usual, and more.

Fines for violating the restrictions start at $3,000.

Chief of Calgary Emergency Management Agency Susan Henry said on Saturday that 61 warnings of water misuse had been issued and that 1800 calls related to the restrictions had been dialled to 3-1-1. 34 calls came concerning the fire ban, which remains in place so that the fire department can save water for emergencies.

The agency said they are emphasizing an education-first approach but will move towards issuing tickets if those warned do not change their behaviour.

On Saturday’s update, Gondek said that the best-case scenario would see the water conservation remain in place for a minimum of five to seven days. No worst-case scenario timeline was provided.

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