TORONTO – A developing water crisis in Nunavut’s capital, Iqaluit, is exposing how precarious the drinking water situation can be for the city.
city on Tuesday Health department declared local emergency and advised residents not to drink tap water due to the potential for petroleum hydrocarbons in the water supply.
Iqaluit’s nearly 8,000 residents are being advised not to use tap water for drinking or cooking until further notice, while both boiled and filtered tap water is not safe. Laundry, cleaning and showers are safe provided the water is not swallowed while bathing, the city said.
Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell told Granthshala’s Power Play that investigators discovered the smell of “petroleum products” in one of the control units used to store the city’s drinking water.
“It is too early to suggest what it is, but if I were a betting man and the petroleum product is there, I would suspect it has been damaged due to climate change,” he said.
“We had a very hot and wet summer here in Iqaluit and of course climate change is affecting us a lot, I would say maybe the permafrost melted and our facility would have been gone.”
While the discovery of a petroleum smell is relatively new to city officials, Iqaluit residents have observed it for more than weeks.
Iqaluit resident Katie Hughes told The Canadian Press: “I think the city should have done the test two weeks ago and it’s their job to keep us safe.”
Water samples have been sent for testing, but results may take up to five working days. While they wait, city officials are in the process of cleaning the tank and inspecting it for any leaks or cracks.
Bell said it may still take a few days for tap water to be safe to drink after boiling. Meanwhile, the crisis has exposed how unsustainable water reserves can be for the city.
Residents are currently paying around $9 for a liter of bottled water and queuing for hours to buy it. The Canadian Press reported Wednesday that both major grocery stores in Iqaluit — Arctic Ventures and Northmart — were sold from both bottled water and plastic jugs.
Meanwhile, the city has tapped reserves at the nearby Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park to supply supplies to its elderly and those in need. Bell said some residents are also heading to the park to collect water and inadvertently blocking city officials from accessing it.
“It’s a terrible situation,” he said.
“We have some of the most pristine water in the world, but accessing it is a challenge and the city of Iqaluit has been battling a water crisis for almost five years.”
Nunavut has also promised to bring 81,000 liters of water from Ottawa to meet demand.
While Bell hopes this can be resolved in a short time, there are also plenty of long-term issues with the city’s water supply.
Bell said that both the reservoir and water treatment facilities in the city are too small for the population of Iqaluit, and the piping is in need of repair.
“There’s a big issue there and obviously we have to fix it,” he said.
The city has asked the federal government for $133 million to fix infrastructure surrounding the water supply and Bell is hopeful of a response.
“Everyone is moving on the same side, it’s frankly scary,” he said.
With files from Granthshala.ca author Nicole Bogart and The Canadian Press