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Mandatory non-essential water use ban lifted for Edmonton and neighbouring communities


A mandatory non-essential water use ban for Edmonton and surrounding communities has been lifted, Epcor announced on Friday.

The ban was issued on Monday after a failure at the E.L. Smith water treatment plant took the plant offline.

"As of this morning we've completed repairs to the E.L. Smith water treatment plant and we're operating at full capacity," Epcor's Frank Mannarino told reporters at a Friday news conference. "While we're still restoring supplies in the reservoir system, we're comfortable at this point that the system has stabilized enough that we can lift the water restrictions."

Under the ban, residents and businesses were asked to cut back on water use, and businesses that use large volumes of water were asked to halt their operations entirely.

"I would especially like to thank the owners and the workers at car washes and laundromats who have been hit the hardest. We appreciate the sacrifices that you made this week to help us keep essential water supplies flowing through the whole region," Mannarino said.

"We do encourage everyone to go out and support the local businesses that were affected by this ban over the next couple of days," said Vicki Campbell of Epcor.

Earlier this week, Epcor had said under the city's water use bylaw, it had the authority to turn off water to any business that defied the mandatory owner.

On Friday, Mannarino confirmed that the company did shut off water in a handful of instances.

"There were a few businesses where we had to enforce the bylaw on this. So we did limit those businesses," he said.

Epcor officials announced on Feb. 2, 2024 that a mandatory non-essential use water ban for Edmonton and surrounding areas had been lifted. (Dave Mitchell/CTV News Edmonton)

He added 100 million litres of water was saved thanks to conservation efforts.

"We consume in the city 350 to 370 million litres per day," he said. "So 100 million litres spread over three days is 30, 35 million litres a day, so about a 10 per cent reduction in our normal consumption."

Epcor says it supplies water to about 90 communities, all of which were included under the mandatory ban.

Timeline of events

At the news conference, Campbell shared more details about what happened at the E.L. Smith plant to cause the shutdown.

"At about 2:30 a.m. on Monday, water entered the vault containing high voltage electrical cables at our water treatment plant. These cables feed to 4,000 horsepower pumps, which supply water into the distribution system. So this contact resulted in failure of major electrical components at the E.L. Smith water treatment plant."

Campbell said the plant was able to continue treating water, but the treated water could not be released into the system without the pumps.

"We determined the scope of the repair and it was quite significant. We needed to replace those high voltage cables, as well as some other components of the electrical system," Campbell said.

Compounding the issues, Campbell said the Rossdale treatment plant was not running at full capacity either.

Edmonton's Rossdale water treatment plan on Jan. 29, 2024. (Darcy Seaton/CTV News Edmonton)

"We have some ongoing construction for capital improvements going on at that plant. We decided that we had to stop that capital work to get Rossdale back on a full production."

Campbell said Rossdale was fully back online by 3 a.m. Tuesday.

Despite that, Rossdale couldn't produce enough water alone to meet the normal consumption demand for Epcor's service area.

Work was already underway at E.L. Smith and by Thursday afternoon the repairs had been completed.

Once officials were able to confirm water supplies were returning to normal, the ban was lifted Friday morning, 48 hours ahead of the initial target date of mid-day Sunday.

Internal investigation

The failure at E.L. Smith happened despite multiple redundancies at the plant designed to prevent a shutdown.

Epcor says it's launching an internal review into the breakdown at the 50 year old facility.

The E.L. Smith water treatment plant and kīsikāw pīsim solar farm in Edmonton on Jan. 30, 2024. (John Hanson/CTV News Edmonton)

"Water itself entering that vault shouldn't be enough to cause these types of faults," Jamie Gingrich of Epcor told reporters. "We've got to do some further investigation to really nail down what happened there. But as you can imagine, water in high voltage electrical gear is not a great combination."

"I can tell you that it's not an incident where somebody pressed the wrong button or something like that," Mannarino said. "It's related to the immediate condition of the physical assets. Now we're going to look deeper than that in terms of our own history and how we got here and what decisions were made along the way. Some of them may go back many, many years."

In addition to the internal review, Epcor has also been called before the Edmonton Utilities Committee next month to provide assurances that a similar situation won't happen in the future. Top Stories

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