Calgary shelters, hotels step up to conserve water as feeder main repairs continue

Since a major feeder main ruptured in northwest Calgary last week, triggering calls for Calgarians to use as little water as possible, homeless shelters and hotels in the city have been stepping up to conserve as well.

But with repairs expected to continue well into next week, shelters are asking Calgarians for support as they manage the strain on their resources.

At the Calgary Drop-In Centre, water conservation efforts start in the kitchen, where they prepare 2,000 meals a day for unhoused Calgarians.

"We were able to pivot pretty quickly in terms of adjusting our meal plans, moving toward doing disposable single-use cups, plates, all of that, just to ensure we weren't using all of the water that would be necessary to clean and maintain those items," said Patrick Newman, manager of the organization's free goods program.

Patrick Newman is the manager of the Calgary Drop-In Centre's free goods program.
Patrick Newman is the manager of the Calgary Drop-In Centre's free goods program. He estimates the shelter is saving thousands of litres of water per meal by making changes. (CBC)

That means moving away from meals that use lots of water — like soup, rice or pasta — and switching to dishes that can be baked or fried, for example.

While it may not sound like much, Newman estimates the shelter is saving thousands of litres of water per meal by making those changes.

It's a similar situation at Alpha House, where more than 200 people walk through the shelter's doors each day.

While they do use water when needed for health and safety issues, executive director Kathy Christiansen said they've asked clients to limit showers and leave laundry to emergencies until water supply concerns wane.

"Crisis is part of our role in community," said Christiansen.

The Calgary Alpha House Society operates a number of programs for those experiencing homelessness or struggling with addiction.
Alpha House is struggling with extra costs as it tries to save water, a week after a major feeder main broke in northwest Calgary. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Both the Drop-In Centre and Alpha House are using donated water bottles and supplies they've set aside to help, but with repairs taking longer than expected, the cost of it all is adding up.

"It hasn't been the most cost-effective response for us. We know that we need to be part of the solution, but we've had to purchase more flats of water, and purchasing disposable plates and cutlery is definitely not a cost-effective solution."

Both organizations say they're in need of donations to maintain their supplies — from bottled water and disposable plates to cash.

Thousands of visitors given tips to save water

Meanwhile, with at least 5,000 visitors in Calgary for the Global Energy Show, hotels are also doing their part to conserve water.

Sol Zia, executive director of the Calgary Hotel Association, said hotels are exempt from any indoor restrictions, but many are taking voluntary actions.

"Just about every hotel in the city has a communication to their guests on tips to conserve water, and some hotels are doing far more than simply talking to their guests," said Zia.

Those tips vary by hotel but can include actions like taking shorter showers and reusing towels and linens.

Other hotels have closed hot tubs and steam rooms, and turned down pool temperatures to reduce water evaporation, he said. Some have switched to compostable plates temporarily, and others are skipping tablecloths at banquets.

Police were called to Hotel Arts in Calgary's Beltline early on Tuesday morning for a stabbing.
Hotels in downtown Calgary are busy as the Global Energy Show brings thousands of visitors to the city. (Google Maps)

"Those little things have significant impact because when you think of washing hundreds of tablecloths, it does have water impact. So those little things that hotels and banquet rooms across the city are doing are meaningful," said Zia.

The annual Global Energy Show, which brings over 30,000 energy stakeholders and professionals to the newly-opened and expanded BMO Centre, runs until Thursday evening.

City officials continue to urge residents to limit their water use to reduce the risk of running out citywide.