GN declares Iqaluit’s potential freshwater shortage a health emergency
City has applied for last-minute permit to pump water from Apex River and unnamed lake
The City of Iqaluit has applied for an emergency amendment to its water licence in order to replenish the city’s freshwater reservoir before winter, following a new report that suggests there may not be adequate water to meet the community’s demands between now and early 2019.
The amended application, filed with the Nunavut Water Board last week, looks to withdraw up to 500,000 square metres of water from the Apex River and “unnamed waterbodies” any time between Aug. 9 and Oct. 30 this year.
The application also requires permission to temporarily alter the flow of the water in the river’s watershed to accommodate the withdrawal.
The move comes just weeks after the potential shortage was raised at two separate city council meetings in July.
On July 24, councillors opted to strike a task force to explore their options on how to replenish the Lake Geraldine reservoir in the short-term, and how to ensure a long-term freshwater source for the city.
But the amendment suggests the city was prompted by the Government of Nunavut to act fast.
Just three days after that meeting, on July 27, Nunavut’s chief medical officer declared the city’s potential freshwater shortage over the coming year a “health emergency.”
“The [Department of Health] directed the city to immediately intervene to ensure the city has sufficient water quantity for the season,” the amendment reads.
City councillors raised the issue of low water levels in Lake Geraldine in early July. Typically, the reservoir is full by October, but that didn’t happen in 2017.
The city then hired at least two separate consulting firms to gather data around the issue.
The first, Colliers International, produced an assessment in mid-July that shows the city has seen unusually low levels of precipitation. February, April and June 2018 had the lowest precipitation levels for those months over an 11-year period.
A second report, prepared by Golder Associates and dated July 25, indicated that “under certain climatic and demand conditions, sufficient source water would not be retained by the reservoir to satisfy the city’s winter water demands,” the water licence application said.
The first phase of the replenishment would see two pumps installed on the south shore of the Apex River at a location just over a kilometre upstream from the Road to Nowhere bridge, powered by a diesel generator and overland hoses.
Once the maximum permitted withdrawal has been made from the river, the city would supplement it with water from a lake 1.6 kilometres northeast of the end of Road to Nowhere—part of the Apex River watershed—also drawn with a pump and hoses.
If necessary, the city would apply for supplementary pumping next year, from Aug. 1 to Oct. 30, 2019, based on the success of this year’s pumping.
The city’s application has not yet been approved.
Previous research has looked at the viability of drawing water from the Apex River and concluded the river would only have the capacity to provide water over a two-year period.
The city currently has the materials needed to pump from the river, but would require additional equipment to pump from the unnamed lake farther away—which research has identified as a more viable long-term solution to replenishing Lake Geraldine.
In the licence application, the city said it continues to look at long-term solutions for replenishing the city’s reservoir, which it hopes to have completed in two to three years’ time.
Those include using desalinized seawater or looking to draw from different locations along the Sylvia Grinnell River.
In the meantime, the city has sent out two separate notices to residents of Iqaluit to conserve water.
The first asks residents to take showers instead of baths, because the latter tend to use 265 litres—more than five times the average shower.
A second notice on Aug. 9 said residents are no longer permitted to use city water to wash cars, at home or as part of any business or fundraising activities.