Valemount residents woke up to dry taps on Labour Day Monday morning after the water pumps malfunctioned and the reservoirs ran dry.
A warning went out Sunday afternoon telling residents to conserve water. However, within a day, the reservoirs were empty.
The reservoirs are designed to hold some 500,000 gallons of water, which only lasted about a day and a half from the estimated time of pump failure.
A number of business owners rely on water for their machinery. It’s also reported that some residents stockpiled water after learning about the warning, causing the reservoirs to drain faster. A few sprinklers on timers were still going like clockwork Sunday evening, as their homeowners were gone on vacation.
Several people outside village limits volunteered on Facebook to give people water from their wells.
The village also assured homeowners that the Valemount Volunteer Fire Department was prepared for residential fire protection using other water sources.
The fire department as well as the junior rangers volunteered their time to help out during the emergency. Others pitched in to deliver water restriction notices.
A back-up pump was in place Monday morning, but the village had to wait several more hours for the fitting pieces to arrive. By the afternoon began pumping water to the treatment plant located roughly 60 feet above the creek, but only at 1/3 the capacity as the normal pump. Since the reservoirs were empty, it took several hours to reach a level that was safe. The village feared opening them too soon could lead to backwash.
The water was turned back on slowly around 6:30 and most residents had water in the taps by 7 pm.
The original pumps were damaged during flooding in June when Swift Creek swelled its banks and were currently under repair. The pumps that malfunctioned were back-up pumps installed while the original ones were being fixed.
Valemount Mayor Andru McCracken said while the water loss smacks of a “perfect storm” the village will be reviewing the events to determine what went wrong and what could have been done better. He says a lot of safeguards were in place which failed.
“A lot of time and energy went into making a system that’s bullet proof. We’re going to go through the whole thing to see what really happened to prepare for other situations we don’t anticipate.”
He says water is one of the key services they provide at the village and they take it seriously.
“It’s our core business.”
The inside of the pump house was damaged from water exploding from the second pump that kicked in after the first broke down.
Pump #2 kicked into action but the torque of it switching on ruptured a line in the pump house, McCracken says.
“The whole inside of the pump house got wet with a tremendous amount of water.”
The water sprayed the electronics that control the pumps, even though the electronics were set up to be waterproofed.
He says the electronics were damaged and will need to be repaired and possibly replaced. They do not yet have a cost estimate.
Even with all the things that went wrong, Public Works staff thought on their feet, McCracken says. An example was how they connected the replacement pump to a fire hydrant that isn’t used by the fire hall, which allowed them to pump water uphill.
“It was thinking outside the box to make something happen.”
Since Monday is a statutory holiday, Councillor Hollie Blanchette volunteered to come into the village office to cover the phones.
McCracken said people phoning were very understanding.
“It’s a major inconvenience. You lose a service you get upset. You expect people to be angry.”
The original pumps were damaged by turbid flood waters in June. Gunk and silt from the water filed the bottom of the pumps down, damaging the impellors. They were taken for repairs, leaving the village with two replacements, which were the ones that malfunctioned on the weekend.
Even though the water is turned on, water restrictions will remain in place and will consist of the following:
Reduce frequency or duration of the following:
• Toilet flushes
Avoid the following:
• Watering lawns