01/29/2013 12:26 EST | Updated 03/31/2013 05:12 EDT

Cause of that Montreal flood? Aging pipes, city says

MONTREAL - A century-old pipe in dire need of repair is being blamed for a big downtown flood that paralyzed Montreal's core on Monday, cancelling university classes and causing rush-hour headaches.

A City of Montreal spokesman said it's not known what caused the break in a 90-centimetre water main that burst at a construction site near McGill University.

Philippe Sabourin said Tuesday the pipe was between 100 and 125 years old, was in bad shape, and city crews were working to repair it.

But aging infrastructure is not just a problem for major centres like Montreal.

It's a problem many cities across Canada have to deal with, according to Karen Leibovici, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

"The infrastructure in this country is at a point where it needs significant repair and rehabilitation and in many areas of the country, we need new infrastructure as well," Leibovici said in an interview.

A study done for the federation five years ago indicated there was "an infrastructure deficit" of $170 billion.

And Leibovici said a more recent study involving civil engineers, public works professionals and construction firms found roads, water, sewer and drainage systems were still at risk.

"What we're looking at right now is that there's a significant infrastructure gap that still exists," Leibovici said.

But a long-term solution appears to be in the works.

The federation has been working with the federal government over the last two years to develop a plan dealing with infrastructure needs across the country.

"It's a 20-year program that has predictable funding, a little like the gas tax right now where every community across the country knows what they'll be receiving on a yearly basis," she said.

"There needs to be a plan that is predictable, sustainable and long-term," Leibovici said, stressing that municipalities need to be able to plan for the future.

The Edmonton city councillor said the federation expects to see funding for the plan to be announced in March in the upcoming federal budget.

Leibovici, a former Montrealer, also said downtown flooding is not something people would expect in a city like Montreal.

"We've seen flooding elsewhere (and) the flooding of that nature is usually closer to a river bank — not in a downtown area," she said.

Sabourin stressed that, while construction work was underway to replace the burst water main pipe, no backhoes or other equipment were responsible for the problem.

The water was mostly gone by Tuesday morning, a far cry from scenes of raging water that swept some people away and caused minor injuries.

However, there was still flooding in a small downtown area.

Sabourin also said it's too early to evaluate the damage, but if citizens want to make any claims they can do so by contacting city hall.

"We'll see if the city is responsible — the question remains to be determined," he said.

Sabourin also stressed that there was no problem with the drinking water that is supplied to 500,000 people.

"I have to insist on that — there is absolutely no problem with the drinking water," he said.