Calgary's construction industry pulling water from Bow River after province fast-tracks permit

The move will allow construction to continue ‘while not putting any added stress on the city’s water supply,’ Mayor Jyoti Gondek said

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The fast-flowing Bow River will be the construction industry’s source of water until Calgary finishes repairs to its damaged water main — a solution the city fast-tracked to relieve some pressure from its clean-water supply.

The city has opened a site at the West Baker Park Boat Launch near Bowness where construction companies can gather free, non-potable water from the Bow River, according to a letter sent to Calgary’s construction industry on Thursday.

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The move will allow construction to continue “while not putting any added stress on the city’s water supply,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek said Thursday morning.

The city was able to secure a permit to draw water from the Bow River through the provincial government, which fast-tracked Calgary’s application, Gondek said.

“It was really the city recognizing that they had to take unusual steps in an unusual situation,” said Bill Black, president and chief operating officer of the Calgary Construction Association (CCA).

“(It was) recognizing the residential and commercial construction marketplace that is really (operating) flat-out right now.”

The city will be opening a second location on Friday at the Ogden Boat Launch in southeast Calgary.

Water used on compaction, dust management

Water is most commonly used on construction sites to compact soil that will sit beneath new developments. Compaction is a process in which water is applied to the soil and is pushed down by rolling over it with heavy equipment, compacting it to ensure the ground doesn’t shift after construction is complete.

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Water is also used to prevent dust and dry soil from flying into the air, especially around residential builds.

While the industry’s water use hasn’t ever been measured, Black estimated it uses several hundred thousand litres a week. The need is particularly high at this time of year, when construction sites take advantage of the warm weather and thawed ground.

“If you looked at when the ring road was being built and there was that section that was right beside the residential areas, there’s high water usage on compaction. There’s high water usage on dust management. Depending where we are, it could be really quite high.”

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Industry ‘grateful’ as city works on additional options

The need for water grows during dry and hot periods of the year, said Brian Hahn, CEO of Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) — Calgary region.

Since Calgary’s water main broke nearly two weeks ago, many construction companies have been travelling outside of Calgary to fill up on water, though consistent rainfall has lessened that need, he said.

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“Industry and BILD members are grateful for the city to be working with us,” Hahn said.

The City of Calgary said in its letter to industry that it’s working on more options for providing non-potable water, but didn’t say what those options will be.

While Calgary has struggled to keep up with its exploding population growth, housing starts in the city have been on a record-setting roll this year. In May, Calgary saw 9,212 housing starts — a 34 per cent increase from the same month a year prior, when there were 6,867 housing starts, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

Calgary’s construction industry was previously frustrated with the city’s initial ban on “hot works” activities — meaning construction activities that pose a potential fire risk — that the CCA said put at least 800 roofers without work at a prime period in the year. The city quickly responded by relaxing those rules as long as strict safety protocols were taken.

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