Car washes close at city's request as businesses enter third week of water restrictions

The city has sent a letter to car wash owners requesting them to suspend operations for the duration of the water crisis

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Chris Friesen wasn’t interested in shutting down his business for three or more weeks.

When he received a letter on Tuesday from the City of Calgary requesting he, a car wash owner, cease operations, he made a few calls. By Thursday, a truck full of water rolled into Mint Smartwash in southeast Calgary to supply it with potable water so Friesen wouldn’t run afoul of the city’s restrictions.

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“For the foreseeable next week, two weeks, that’ll be our method,” said Friesen, president and CEO of Mint Smartwash.

The car wash may be one of a select few in Calgary still operating after Nancy Mackay, Calgary’s director of water services, sent a letter to all car wash owners requesting they stop providing their services until Calgary’s broken water main returns to service. It’s arguably one of the most heavy-handed approaches the city has taken to businesses as it attempts to keep demand below supply.

In the letter obtained by Postmedia, Mackay wrote the city has the ability to cut off access to water service to customers in order to “mitigate impairment of the water system.”

“As we anticipate your co-operation with the above request, we are hopeful that we will not need to discontinue water service to you but given the urgency of the situation we are prepared to do so as necessary,” Mackay wrote, acknowledging the hardship it will likely cause businesses and thanking car wash owners for co-operating.

The city did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the order was mandatory. Some car wash owners expressed confusion over whether they were required to close. While no car washes reached by Postmedia on Friday said they were operating, one such business downtown was seen welcoming customers Friday afternoon. (Car washes are the only group Calgary has requested to cease operations, according to the city’s website.)

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It marks just one chapter in a tense saga for some Calgary businesses, with the city targeting July 5 — still a full two weeks away — for likely completing repairs on the water main that connects the city to 60 per cent of its water supply.

City businesses consume about 35 per cent of the total water used in Calgary; the remaining 65 per cent comes from residential use.

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The city has otherwise asked some businesses to have employees work from home. Others, such as breweries, are being asked to rinse or flush water in production lines instead of discharging it. Stores are asked to clean strategically by using brooms and brushes instead of water-cleaning methods.

Big Rock Brewery has cut water consumption by 40 per cent at an exceptionally busy time, which will cut into its bottom line, Brad Goddard, vice-president of business development, said an interview last weekend with Postmedia.

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Big Rock — the city’s largest brewer — has been hit the hardest by water restrictions, said Blair Berdusco, executive director of the Alberta Small Brewers Association.

The crisis couldn’t come at a worse time, she said. Brewers normally build out their stock right about now to ensure they can meet mid-summer demand. The water restrictions mean they’ll likely end up with limited supply down the road.

“If this went on too long … it would mean a significant decrease in the amount of beer that would be available,” Berdusco said.

The crisis has been a boon for bulk water hauling companies.

For Glacier Water Transport Service, which pulls its water from High River, demand has doubled over the past two weeks, said owner Brent Schaefer.

“It’s tough because this is a high-demand time of year and the city is dealing with a lot of unknowns. It’s a very demanding time,” he said.

A water truck loads up at the Bow River in Baker Park on Friday.
A water truck loads up at the Bow River in Baker Park on Friday. Jim Wells/Postmedia

Construction companies, which largely use water for soil compaction, have made up the bulk of Schaefer’s client base since the main broke. However, the industry was recently granted permission by the province to use water from the Bow River, with the city setting up water pick-up sites along the river.

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Schaefer has also been working with beverage, food and cheese companies to supply clean water. He’s also declined contracts to fill pools and other non-essential needs.

For Friesen, despite coming up with an interim solution to keep his car wash functioning, he’s frustrated his line of business has been singled out. He added each wash at his business reclaims 80 per cent of the water used, with potable water used only for soaps, polishes, waxes and the final rinse.

“I feel like this is more just an appeasement of the public than it is actually trying to achieve what we’re trying to do, which is decrease water consumption,” he said.

— Files from Chris Varcoe

[email protected]
X: @mattscace67

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