Gondek provides update on water crisis in Calgary

Gondek provides update on water crisis in Calgary
Gondek provides update on water crisis in Calgary

Calgary continues to face a water crisis and infrastructure repairs are being made to solve the problem.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek joined Alberta Primetime’s Michael Higgins to talk about the water situation and the repairs being made.

Here’s a transcript of the conversation:

Michael: What is the planning for optimal functioning of the water system?

Mayor Gondek: I can tell you that we are now in a phase where we are doing some welding where we have identified hot spots. We are putting adapters on the concrete pipe to attach it to the steel pipe that is going in. Of those five locations, one has a concrete casing on top of the existing pipe because that was deemed a better repair than trying to put a steel pipe in there. So that is the state of the five. We think the work needs to be done quickly. After it is done and everything is sealed, we are going to backfill. Once the backfill is done and the areas are covered, we are going to test the water, we are going to add pressure to the system. And we are going to do the water quality testing. And Alberta Health Services can tell us if we are good to go. And the pressure testing will tell us if everything is back up to full capacity.

Michael: As we heard from above, you have indicated that you will call in all favors and respond to provincial and federal offers of support. What does that look like? What might these other government decisions bring to the table for you?

Mayor Gondek: That remains to be seen. We are currently in the process of accounting for expenditures for this repair and have already received significant support from our provincial government partners. I am very grateful that they allowed us to draw water from the river to have non-potable water available in large city wagons so that construction workers or commercial businesses could have access to non-potable water. And now residents can do the same, allowing them to collect non-potable water in their containers to provide a little moisture for their plants or their gardens. So we already have good cooperation with the provincial government. Once we have the full state of what it took to make this repair, I will make sure to reach out to both federal and provincial counterparts to see if there is any financial support we can access.

Michael: Now that this situation has developed, has there ever been a time when Bill 21, the legislation that now allows the provincial government to take over crisis management, was on the table?

Mayor Gondek: I have to say that the communication between the provincial government and the City of Calgary has been very strong. I’ve had the opportunity to be there when they had their emergency management cabinet committee; I’ve been in regular contact with Minister McIver; I’ve had conversations with Premier Smith because I needed to. They’re pretty comfortable with the way we’re handling the situation. I’ve been in communication with them before we declared a local emergency. So between their Alberta Emergency Management Agency and our local, and between my interactions with the provincial cabinet, they know we’ve got things pretty well under control.

Michael: What should Calgarians expect from the independent review that you indicated is already in the works?

Mayor Gondek: That’s a really good question. And I think we all have certain components that we would like to see in that review. And I’ll leave it up to the experts that we put on that panel to determine what the scope looks like, what the questions are, what the answers are. But what I’m really advocating for is transparency to the public. And so the review needs to be thorough and comprehensive. And we need to have a good outcome to show the residents that we’ve looked at the incident in a very rigorous way. This is what happened. This is why we think it happened. And this is what we’re doing going forward to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. So transparency is the key word here.

Michael: Is it a one-month process, a six-month process? Can you put some kind of timeline on that?

Mayor Gondek: I’m not sure what the timeline looks like. I would say it’s definitely going to be a process of more than a month. Remember that there are several stages that need to be assessed. And there are materials that have been taken from those workplaces and are in storage. So the experts will have to look at those damaged pieces to try to reconstruct what may have happened, so I’m more interested in making sure this is done right, with regular updates to the public as they become available. But I don’t want to rush anything, I want to make sure that we do it right so that not only can we strengthen our systems, but we can also be an example for other cities in North America, because this would actually happen in each of them can happen.

Michael: And what can other municipalities in Alberta learn from what your city is experiencing here?

Mayor Gondek: I would say they are Canadian municipalities. So I’ve had conversations with the chair and vice chair of the big city mayor’s caucus, which is a group of big city mayors that meet regularly and we talk about the things that are important within our cities and all of our municipalities. And I’m going to be working with them to figure out how we can apply the lessons that we’ve learned here broadly across the country. So, you know, what have we discovered? What have we done to address the situation? How do we manage this type of infrastructure? Those are all things that we have in common. So I’m interested in using us as a case study, if you will, of what other places can do.

Michael: What has this experience meant to you as mayor? How has it changed your view of municipal politics?

Mayor Gondek: More than municipal politics, municipal service and municipal public service, we have great people working for the City of Calgary who have strong partnerships with the private sector. We were able to engage contractors very quickly. And we have the contractor crews and our city crews working side by side to get this repair done. So it’s a valuable reminder of how important it is for the public sector and the private sector to work together. And I would say the other thing is the importance of communication. It is crucial that residents understand what is happening around them because in the absence of strong communication, people assume things. And in a situation like this, assumptions don’t help. Facts matter, timelines matter. Being strong communicators is therefore something we as a municipality must be good at.

Michael: Before we go, maybe some quick thoughts on your predecessor Naheed Nenshi winning the Alberta NDP leadership race. How do you see this playing a role in the political dynamics of your city?

Mayor Gondek: Well, I think first of all it is important that we have a province with a leader and a leader of the opposition. Congratulations Mr. Nenshi. I look forward to working with whoever forms government and with the opposition to ensure our concerns are properly understood. And that sometimes both parties can work together to really help us do the things that we need to do in our city, in terms of a better funding model, more consistency and funding. I hope both parties are interested in that, because we are the economic engine of the province and the nation. So more support would be greatly appreciated.