June 15th, 2024

City says it’s being water line proactive

By Collin Gallant on June 11, 2024.

Crews from Hamm Construction rework the intersection of Third Street and Sixth Avenue as part of a larger project to replace 100-year-old water lines along Third Street in downtown Medicine Hat.--News Photo Collin Gallant

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City utility officials say all water systems, including Medicine Hat’s, are susceptible to major breaks like one that’s put more than one million Calgarians on major water restrictions.

But, they are also in the middle of an aggressive infrastructure renewal plan that began 10 years ago to replace local pipes and avoid major breaks in older lines.

“Sometimes it’s just the age of the pipe … and of course it can happen because it’s just the nature of pipe material deteriorating to the point where there is a catastrophic failure,” said James King, acting manager of field operations with the water department.

“In Medicine Hat though, we’ve been proactive, and every year we tick away at areas of concern, older infrastructure which (has a greater) potential for failures.”

In Calgary, a main branch of the water distribution system broke on June 5, leading to a boil-water order in the area of Bowness while work to repair the leak proceeds this week.

All Calgarians are under order to reduce unnecessary water use, and voluntarily limit domestic water-use, while a fire ban is in place to avoid potential stress on the system.

The measures also affect Airdrie, Chestermere and Strathmore, as well as the Tsuut’tina Nation, which all get water from the Calgary system.

This spring in Medicine Hat, city council endorsed a major 10-year update to the 2014 “Aging Infrastructure Policy.”

That plan estimated more than $900 million would need to be spent over 30 years to renew major utility systems, like storm, sanitary and storm sewers, as well as roads and bridges.

The review, due later this year, will provide an overview of work done so far, set parameters for scheduling new projects and update cost estimates and timelines.

“We have an inspection program … and our engineering is studying areas of concern – we’re concentrating on renewals,” said King

King said that while the city departments inspect piping in accessible areas, and technology and video is being used more often, “maintenance” essentially consists of wholesale replacement of broken, breaking or worn segments of pipe.

In terms of short-term contingencies, King says the city routinely inspects isolation valves that can be used to reroute water around portions of the system where breaks occur and limit outages.

The department also keeps a stock of common and hard to acquire pieces like pipe, vaults and valves.

Since 2014, the city has dedicated millions each year for a general replacement program, and is now entering the second decade of a 30-year infrastructure replacement program.

It dedicated escalating funds each year to replacing waterlines as well as sewer and storm drains, roads, bridge and even sidewalks to address aging infrastructure problems, breakdowns and higher costs.

That’s above major projects, such as current work in the downtown core to replace lines that date from the turn of the 20th century.

General replacement is taking place this summer on Eighth Street on the Southeast Hill, the N. Railway area near Maple Avenue, as well as Harlow.

Work to upsize a water main in Riverside is coupled with gas, sewer and storm sewer replacements.

“Medicine Hat is quite busy, and those are areas of high concern,” said King.

At the time the city adopted the renewal plan in 2014, 30 kilometres of water pipes in the 400-kilometre network – including some lengths of wooden conduit – were older than 80 years. Another 70 kilometres would reach 80 years in service by the end of the 30-year plan.

According to the plan, the city budget should include $6 million in water line replacement each year until 2029, when it increases to $7 million, then reaching $9 million in 2039 for a total of $187 million over 30 years.

Similar amounts are dedicated to storm sewers on an annual basis, and at the time, the city began lining storm sewer mains with epoxy coating to stabilize the pipes’ structure and extend the lifespan without excavation.

King said similar lining is now being explored for potable water lines, but may only be useful on a limited basis.

Council’s recent approval of an Environmental Roadmap also includes the move to develop a stormwater management.

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