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Olds water mains smaller, easier to repair than big Calgary line

Olds chief administrative officer Brent Williams says like Calgary, his town is dealing with aging infrastructure and less money from the province to fix or repair it

OLDS – The town does not have a waterline anywhere near as large as the one that broke in Calgary roughly two weeks ago, “so while breaks can and do occur, the scale here is smaller and easier to isolate and repair,” says Brent Williams, the town’s chief administrative officer.

A massive waterline that feeds water to other smaller lines throughout much of the city broke June 5, resulting in water restrictions that are still in place, as well as a boil water advisory in the Bowness area lifted only recently.

Williams says Olds is battling the same problem that Calgary and other municipalities across the province are dealing with: aging infrastructure and less money from the province to fix or replace it.

“Underground infrastructure renewal has been the primary focus for Olds for the last two years and will be for the foreseeable future,” Williams wrote in an email.

“We are spending around 75 per cent of our entire 2024 capital on repairs, equipment, and maintenance projects related to water and sanitary infrastructure.”

Williams noted that as part of its efforts to address water infrastructure concerns, the town is now about two thirds of the way through a leak detection process.

That involves “hiring private contractors with advanced ultrasonic devices to inspect 90 per cent of the town’s water system,” Williams said.

“We have identified over a dozen leaks already, mostly breaks in service connections, and are in the process of repairing those,” he wrote.

He said 61 Avenue “has taken the brunt of the digs.”

In weeks past, town council has publicly aired its frustration with declining provincial revenues and the impact those cuts and downloading have had on the town’s ability to maintain its infrastructure, including sewer and water mains.

“With the province removing 40 per cent of capital funding from municipalities like Olds, our ability to repair and replace this aging infrastructure is compromised,” Williams wrote.

“It will take several years for this chronic underfunding by the province to demonstrate its full impact; passing the political consequences to a future government no doubt,” he added.

“But without a focused funding partnership between the province and municipalities to address aging water and sanitary infrastructure, these events will become more common for municipalities of all sizes.”

Jillian Toellner, the town’s supervisor of engagement and communications, echoed Williams’ points.

“We wouldn’t have enough details on the specifics of Calgary’s situation to compare the two municipalities, but what I can say at a high level is that many municipalities are facing issues with aging infrastructure, and this is a top priority for council here in Olds,” she wrote.

“Water main breaks can happen without warning. However, the importance of managing the town’s infrastructure responsibly and effectively is very important to the growth and stability of our community, which is why council is taking such active measures.”

Doug Collie

About the Author: Doug Collie

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