Calgary faced 7,200 sewer backups last year

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Calgary wet wipes
Calgary’s Wanda Wipes mascot reminds residents that she prefers to go into the waste bin, not down the toilet. Photo credit: City of Calgary

The City of Calgary had more than 7,200 calls to 311 last year related to sewer backups, a number of which can be blamed on residents continuing to flush clog-forming wet wipes, say city officials.

As the U.K. made headlines earlier this month with its wet wipe island dilemma, a massive clog near Hammersmith, Calgary officials are taking the opportunity to remind the public of the risks to their own wastewater infrastructure from flushing items that can’t break down.

“Sanitary sewage backups and overflows can be caused by a number of factors, including fats or oils clogging the drain​, blockages due to tree roots, collapsed sewer pipes, and more,” states online guidance from Calgary’s Wastewater Operations and Maintenance department. “Wipes that claim to be flushable aren’t. Flushable wipes retain their shape and strength, and don’t break down in pipes.”

Wet wipe clogs can cause “stop points” in city pipes, officials explained. That means sewage may have to be lifted to make its way to wastewater treatment plants. Wipes can also snag on pumps and propellers.

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Calgary has three wastewater treatment facilities: Fish Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant; Pine Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant; and Bonnybrook Wastewater Treatment Plant. In 2018, local officials announced a major $1 billion investment in Bonnybrook over 10 years to keep pace with population growth and the growing dangers from flooding, following $13.5 million in damages from the city’s 2013 flood. New areas of the plant are expected to open in 2022, and the city is doubling the capacity of the existing co-generation plant.

Once the city’s wastewater gets to one of the treatment plants, it goes through a series of processes before it is released as clean water into the Bow River.

Last week, Calgary officials announced a 2.5% increase in wastewater collection and treatment. This equates to $1.38 to $1.48 per month for the typical residential monthly utility bill.

This article appears in ES&E Magazine’s August 2022 issue:

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