| Water community rushes to Calgary’s aid amid water crisis
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Water community rushes to Calgary’s aid amid water crisis

In times of crises, water utilities stand together to support public safety and reliable service. This was the case recently when the City of Calgary’s water infrastructure suffered a critical blow. 

Martin Coghill from San Diego County Water Authority and pipe sent to City of Calgary

On June 5, the City of Calgary issued a notice to the public about a 78-inch feeder main break after reports of massive streams of water spewing out of the ground. The city quickly enacted water restrictions to conserve water. Further evaluation showed that the break was more complex than initially thought, prompting a state of local emergency.

It was during this crisis that Martin Coghill, operations and maintenance manager of San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA), received an unexpected phone call from his former San Diego colleague, Toby Weickert, now an operations engineer for the City of Calgary. (Pictured above from left, Martin Coghill; loading pipe from San Diego County Water Authority to transport to City of Calgary).

“I was actually in a pre-conference workshop at ACE24, and I got a call from Toby to explain what had happened and that they were looking for a specific size of pipe,” said Coghill. “A couple of emails later, we confirmed we had two pieces close to what he needed.”

The situation in Calgary quickly escalated, with multiple “hot spots” identified beyond the initial repair site. Calgary confirmed their need for the pipes, and SDCWA prepared two 24-foot sections of pipe for transport.

“[Calgary] arranged the crane and truck through a logistics company," Coghill said. "We prepped the pipes and opened the gate for them.”

The pipes departed San Diego in the afternoon of Monday, June 17. They arrived in Calgary just before 6 a.m. local time that Wednesday after traveling more than 1,600 miles.

“This crisis has proven that our community goes beyond our immediate community,” said Francois Bouchart, director of capital priorities and investment with the City of Calgary. “We’ve relied on neighbours near and far -- from the Province supporting our State of Local Emergency and expediting permits needed to share river water with Calgarians, to other communities sending us parts, well wishes and expertise.”

Shared resources, shared resilience

This act of mutual aid speaks volumes about the strength of the water community's interconnectedness.

“We live with the risk of similar failures every day,” said Coghill. “When it happens to someone else, you empathize. Not many agencies have large-diameter pipes like these, so it felt natural to help.”

SDCWA understands the immense challenges Calgary is facing. Having dealt with their own urgent repairs in the past, they know firsthand the pressure of working against the clock to restore vital water services.

“Calgary is doing a phenomenal job, in my opinion, working around the clock at six locations and making the repairs to get the water back,” Coghill said.

Bouchart added, “We are grateful to our crews, contractors and other municipalities, including San Diego County, for supporting us in our time of need.”

This incident has also thrust Coghill into an unexpected spotlight in San Diego and Calgary, where he’s fielded media interviews about the critical but often unseen work of water utilities.

“It's not every day the public gets a glimpse into what we do," Coghill reflected. “Even though it took a crisis, it's gratifying to see people appreciate the effort and collaboration that goes into ensuring reliable water service.”