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No bath, no laundry: Calgarians do their part to cut water usage as pipe rupture continues to cause shortages



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Crews work on repairs to a ruptured water main in Calgary on June 7.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Alexander Aubichon says the last time he had a bath was never.

On Monday afternoon, the five-year-old was testing his new-found ability to pump himself higher on a swing. He jumped off and landed on a bed of pebbles in a playground at the Bowness Seniors’ Centre in Calgary.

“A pipe burst,” Alexander explained.

He is doing his part to conserve water after a major piece of infrastructure ruptured in Calgary last Wednesday, and officials are uncertain when it will be fixed – putting the city at risk of running out of treated water.

Alexander’s mother, Rebekah Mahar, said that was the last day he and his little brother bathed.

“It seems like they haven’t noticed,” she said. “We’re probably going to have to do a bath with just a short amount of water tonight. It is kind of getting to that point.”

The Aubichon-Mahar family members are champion water savers, exceeding Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek’s request that residents trim indoor water consumption by 25 per cent. The city wants to ensure it can distribute water to everyone in the city, while keeping enough on hand for emergencies, such as a fire.

“If we don’t stick to using less water, the reality is that we may run out of water. You could end up turning on a tap and nothing will come out,” Ms. Gondek said Monday afternoon. “That is the reality. It is not the scene out of a movie anymore.

“I don’t say this to scare people, but I think it is incredibly important for us to understand how serious the situation is right now.”

Calgary and its neighbouring cities slurped up 440 million litres of water on Saturday and 457 million litres on Sunday, compared with the 580 million litres they typically consume this time of year, Ms. Gondek said – thanking residents for using water judiciously.

Demand on Sunday outstripped supply at times, she said, but the city started Monday morning with about 620 million litres of treated water available.

Nancy Mackay, Calgary’s water services director, on Monday said the city was still “assessing the condition of the pipe and removing the damage.”

Ms. Gondek on Sunday said she and the city could have done a better job of providing information in the early days of the emergency. She resolved to update residents twice daily and has provided concrete examples of how citizens can cut down on water use.

The busted pipe, known as the Bearspaw South Feedermain, normally services water for 60 per cent of the city, as well as residents in Airdrie, Chestermere and Strathmore. Its diameter varies from 1.5 metres to about 1.95 metres. The broken feedermain is in Bowness, a community in Calgary’s northwest, which was under a boil water advisory until Monday.

Ms. Mahar said that a layer of sediment remained after the boiling water cooled, so her family used it for dishes and washing their hands and faces. The family used a bike trailer and a 20-litre container to haul potable water from a filling station back to their home. Roughly 10,770 people live in Bowness, compared with about 1.3 million across Calgary, according to the 2021 census.

Alberta Health Services lifted the boil water advisory Monday evening.

The emergency prompted Stage 4 restrictions, meaning residents and businesses must not use water for outdoor use. Officials suggest residents limit showers to three minutes, flush the toilet fewer times, and only turn on dishwashers and washing machines when they are fully loaded.

Calgary on Saturday said the repairs could take five to seven days. On Monday, Ms. Mackay said officials do not have an updated timeline because they are still analyzing the situation.

Sarah St. Martin is a teacher at the Bowmont Community Preschool, where pupils now spend their entire day outside to limit the temptation to use water. The school, which is in Bowness, asked parents to pack bottles of drinking water for their kids, she said. One of Ms. St. Martin’s colleagues brings a jug of water for handwashing.

About 19 kids attended the preschool Monday morning, and 11 went in the afternoon. The water restrictions means the kids are unable to care for their garden boxes and the outdoor mud kitchen is closed until further notice.

At home, Ms. St. Martin’s two stepchildren, both teenagers, have to choose between showering or laundry.

Ms. Mahar, Alexander’s mom, is still holding out on washing clothes: “I have five loads of laundry waiting,” she said in the park.

And Alexander has plans for when he can finally take a proper bath again, too: “We have bath bombs,” he said.

Have you been affected by Calgary’s water main break?

The Globe would like to hear from the Calgarians who are being asked to conserve water as officials continue work to repair a critical water main. How are you handling the conservation efforts? What are you doing to tangibly limit your use? Share your experience below, or by sending an e-mail to

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