Water-damaged cables led to EPCOR’s Edmonton water ban

The electrical failure began at 2 a.m. on Jan 29. On that Monday afternoon, EPCOR issued a mandatory non-essential water ban that asked residents to restrict discretionary water use and told businesses that use “non-essential” water, such as car washes, laundromats and rinks, to close temporarily. Photo Credit: EPCOR, via YouTube screen capture

After small amounts of water somehow entered a vault housing high-voltage cables powering water distribution pumps at the E.L. Smith Water Treatment Plant, EPCOR announced a non-essential water ban for Edmonton and the surrounding region as it engaged in repairs.

While one set of power cables remained dry, a crew of some 50 workers collaborated to restore full power to the other two large 4,000-horsepower distribution pumps that supply water to the plant’s storage reservoir system. 

The electrical failure began at 2:30 a.m. on January 29, and was officially resolved on Friday, February 2.

“It was done carefully, and safely, and yes, it could really have been worse,” said Plant Director Vicki Campell, when addressing the repair process and resulting damage. “But we are very pleased to get this plant running and the system restored.”

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There was no impact to the quality of the drinking water throughout the ban, the utility noted.

EPCOR management issued its mandatory non-essential water ban on Monday, asking residents to restrict discretionary water use and businesses that use “non-essential” water, such as car washes, laundromats and rinks, to close temporarily. 

In addition to public communications, more than 300 businesses with high water usage and non-essential operations were directly contacted by EPCOR team members, and EPCOR met with many of the region’s largest water customers from industries such as brewing, manufacturing and animal processing as they adapted their operations.

At a Friday press briefing, EPCOR thanked local businesses that had their bottom lines impacted by conservation measures, and encouraged residents to support places such as car washes and laundromats as operations resume.

EPCOR estimated that water consumption dropped some 10% below typical winter levels, with the surrounding communities conserving more than 100 million litres of water over the course of the ban. 

Due to the amount of water conserved and the efforts of the repair team, EPCOR was able to restore full water access two days earlier than planned, although the reservoir system’s water supply still required time to replenish and stabilize the distribution network.

EPCOR’s second water treatment plant, Rossdale, didn’t have enough water to supply the entire service area with normal amounts, as it was under construction for flood mitigation upgrades. 

What caused the flooding in the electrical housing remains under investigation, EPCOR officials said, although they noted that such an incident is extremely rare.

EPCOR says it will be conducting a post-incident review, and expects to be able to provide a more detailed update to Edmonton’s Utility Committee on March 4, including demand management measures and resiliency planning.

EPCOR provides water to regional customers who represent more than 90 municipalities.

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