Bypass system approved for Iqaluit’s water treatment plant

Health Department took 10 days before giving green light

A picture of the city’s water treatment facility. The Government of Nunavut has approved the city’s plan for installation of a bypass system at the facility, 10 days after it was approved by city council. (File photo by David Lochead)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Government of Nunavut has approved the City of Iqaluit’s plan to build a bypass system for the city’s water treatment plant.

The system would allow water to bypass the underground tanks at the water treatment plant — the water taken from the bypass system would be unfiltered, but would still receive chlorination and UV disinfection.

Drinking the city’s water has been off limits since Oct. 12, when Nunavut’s Department of Health issued a do-not-consume water advisory due to the discovery of fuel in one of the tanks at the water treatment plant.

City councillors approved the $100,000 bypass system on Nov. 15, pending approval from the chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, to help prevent future contamination issues.

At the time, Iqaluit’s chief administrative officer, Amy Elgersma, said the bypass system could be installed as early as Nov. 20.

When Nunatsiaq News contacted the city on Wednesday for an update on whether the bypass system had been installed, city spokesperson Aleksey Cameron said the city was still waiting for approval of the plan.

Nunatsiaq News reached out to the Department of Health that afternoon to ask why it hadn’t been approved yet.

On Thursday morning, Cameron sent an update: “Since yesterday: The city received approval from [the chief public health officer] to proceed with installing a bypass at the water treatment plant. This is a contingency measure.”

Nunatsiaq News has not received a response from the Department of Health about why it took 10 days to approve the bypass system.

The bypass system is part of a larger process the city is undertaking to lift the do-not-consume order. The department has laid out eight requirements that include a monitoring plan, three sets of clean water results and a cleaning of pipes along the city’s water distribution system.

Cameron didn’t have an update as of Wednesday about how far along the city is in completing the work, but said, “The city continues to work with the Government of Nunavut to meet these unique requirements.”

The city has also released water test results in co-ordination with its consulting firm, WSP Canada, on Tuesday, which show tests for hydrocarbon contaminants came back non-detectable from Nov. 7 to 15.

According to available data, the last time testing showed detectable amounts of petroleum in the water was a reading of 100 ug/l of lubricants and oils on Oct. 23 in the treatment plant’s South Clear well — an underground holding tank next to the North Clear well, which had been the first detected site of contamination.

City staff stand over the suspected source of the water supply’s fuel contamination before removing it from nearby the water treatment plant. (Photo courtesy of the City of Iqaluit)

The city has been taking samples from six locations in the water treatment plant and seven locations throughout the distribution system, according to a city news release.

City officials believe the source of the original fuel contamination is a fuel spill from a tank that dates back to the 1960s. The city removed that tank on Nov. 19.

The Government of Nunavut has also been testing the city’s water for hydrocarbon contamination, and has yet to publicize its data in full. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson distributed a few graphs to media on Oct. 22.

Health spokesperson Danarae Sommerville told Nunatsiaq News on Nov. 17 that the government would release the full data its collected, but gave no timeline for its release.

There has been no update since.

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(11) Comments:

  1. Posted by All clear yet? on

    So what’s the slow up? Come on GN. Lift the order. They results are fine. Let’s gooooooo.

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    • Posted by Angry residents on

      It’s not the GNs fault. The reason the GN has not lifted the do not consume order is because they do not have confidence in the City and the fact that they do not have confidence speaks volumes. The city has a lot of work to do to ensure the GN that this will not happen again. The mayor is busy with his Twitter account. This is insanity and residents needs to get damn mad about what is going on here.

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    • Posted by with the city its never clear on

      you obviously have had limited dealing with the city from this side of the counter.

      I’ve gotten letters for late payments of bills from the city when I payed in person and have the receipt from weeks before. I can understand short staffed but it shouldn’t take days to get paperwork completed between desks in the city. it would be really embarrassing if the same thing happened here, could that be why the GN doesn’t comment?

      they GN can be slow at many timed due to the massive organization but in an emergency I’ve seen them get their ducks in a row and pull off things very quickly. so if it took 10 days I can see some of it being GN but it most likely hung out in a city inbox until someone asked them.

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  2. Posted by Good News on

    Didn’t the CAO say the bypass was a contingency because it wouldn’t be filtered and taste off?
    Why are we still under a do not consume order when the water testing keeps coming back clean.
    Enough of this already. Why are we killing the environment, wasting money and cause grave stress to the population when the water in the taps is totally fine.
    Can we lift this shit already?

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    • Posted by thinking of my neighbours on

      your right but your oh so wrong. the CAO did say there was going to be a difference but there are also requirements for the city has to satisfy to “turn the taps on”. as for the list of requirements they sound reasonable and it looks like the CPHO is looking out for the health and well being of the people living in Iqaluit. we also have a working system for water in the mean time.

      to move forward with out checking of all the requirements needed to ensure that everything is ready and safe for community is basically saying that “you don’t care how things are or how they will affect my community” and that feels very much like an antivaxxer mentality.

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  3. Posted by City’s fault on

    Yes the water is safe but The problem is that the GN does not have confidence in the City to drop the order. The city has demonstrated that they do not have the capacity to ensure that the water will continue to be safe. The mayor and council and the CAO are to blame for the wait and I don’t blame the GN for having serious concerns . Looks are the crap that comes out of the mayors mouth. He does not have a sweet clue. He needs to go back to trying to tax the churches. That ludicrous idea seems more promising than efforts to convince the GN that he is competent. Instead of working to resolve the outstanding requirements to lift the do not consume order, The mayor decided to leave town citing that he was going to lobby for more support. He has no strategy, can’t even get meetings with the appropriate people and is far more concerned with his social media. I’m mad! Get the work done to life the order! That should be the priority right now and any true leader or anyone with common sense for that matter knows that. Out mayor is Wandering around aimlessly in Ottawa trying to score pictures to get more Twitter likes .

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  4. Posted by Northern Guy on

    Once the bypass is in place I predict the do not consume order will be lifted. But don’t celebrate just yet. We will likely have cloudy water with a lot of particulate matter due to the lack filtration. We will also likely be under a boil water advisory for many months to come. Just goes to prove the old adage be careful what you wish for.

  5. Posted by Tagak Curley on

    Most of Nunavut communities ,if not all, require approval from water regulatory agency Nunavut Water Board for new water supply or so amending any existing water licences.
    How is it or why is Nunavut Water Board silent in all of this disaster.
    Public health can give a greenlight but NWB must issued a new safe water licence for Iqaluit in my view.

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    • Posted by good point on

      I was thinking the same thing. I am assuming they are probably allowing the GN to be the voice in this or don’t want to say anything until they can investigate how and if the city is responsible for this mess. either way a regulatory board doesn’t often make public announcements unless there is no other party to do that for them.

  6. Posted by Aputi on

    Could tell the men in white hats are office people, hands in their pockets

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