City of Iqaluit moves closer to long-term water storage solution

Three options presented to the engineering and public works committee

It’s estimated that by 2040 the amount of water storage needed by the City of Iqaluit will be more than double what is stored in Lake Geraldine today. (Photo by Dustin Patar)

By Dustin Patar

The City of Iqaluit is one step closer to a long-term solution to its drinking water storage problem after being presented with three viable options during an engineering and public works committee meeting on Sept. 1.

Of those options, only one was recommended, the excavation and construction of a new bermed reservoir adjacent to the aging Lake Geraldine.

“Lake Geraldine is reaching its limits in its ability to store water,” said Iqaluit’s chief administrative officer, Amy Elgersma.

This is particularly true over the winter, when “a lot of the water supply is held up because it’s essentially ice,” she added.

According to Tuesday night’s presentation, the city’s demand for water will only increase.

Based on population growth rate estimates and historic water use data, Iqaluit’s projected water storage capacity will need to double over the course of the next 20 years in order to meet future demand.

According to Elgersma, EXP, the engineering and design firm that was contracted to complete the study, took a broad approach when looking at what the city could do in order to meet these future needs.

“There are certain things that we could do, certain things that we can’t do,” said Elgersma.

Storing water near dump sites, cemeteries, historic areas, known hunting or trapping grounds, parks, or the sites of future subdivisions would not be appropriate, she added.

Of the many options considered, EXP identified three that were viable: the excavation of additional storage within Lake Geraldine, the excavation of additional storage near the lake, or the excavation of additional storage near the lake and the construction of a bermed reservoir.

Each of those options varies in construction price, from a high of $195 million for the work within Lake Geraldine to a low of $64 million for the construction of a new bermed reservoir near the lake.

Based on technical performance, economic efficiency and community impact, EXP recommended the last option.

A 3D rendering of Lake Geraldine alongside the recommended new reservoir, in royal blue, and the proposed berm, in orange. (Image courtesy of the City of Iqaluit)

According to Elgersma, the total cost of Iqaluit’s long-term water storage project, including a 30 per cent contingency reserve, is $100 million.

One drawback to that option is that it would have a “fairly long” construction period of up to three years, said Elgersma.

Despite this, she also advised that it would be a lot safer and easier to implement.

“One of the advantages of the option with the berm and the excavation of the storage is that it would happen separate from Lake Geraldine,” she said, meaning that the quality of the current reservoir and its drinking water would be maintained.

“Times where the water may be quite low”

The recommendations are part of a larger project to ensure the city has enough water to meet both its current and future needs.

In 2017, researchers said that Iqaluit could deplete its freshwater sources in five to 10 years.

A year later, in August of 2018, the Government of Nunavut declared a health emergency because of Iqaluit’s potential water shortage.

The city applied for an emergency amendment to its water licence in order to replenish the reservoir and began pumping water from the Apex River into Lake Geraldine, which was filled before winter.

In 2019, the city experienced another water shortage and a state of emergency, but this time the solution wasn’t as straightforward.

“Apex River is solely dependent on weather and precipitation,” said Elgersma.

“If water is available we can pump into the fall, but there are times where the water may be quite low, like we saw last year.”

The city’s solution was to pump water out of Unnamed Lake, into the Apex River and then into the reservoir.

Following that, the city obtained an amendment to its water licence, allowing it to pump during the spring melt, which has prevented the city from experiencing a water shortage in 2020.

That amendment expires in 2026.

To prevent shortages from occurring in the future, a long-term water supply pre-feasibility study, which involves a fish habitat assessment and a water balance model of Unnamed Lake, is currently being conducted.

This study will be used to determine whether or not the lake can be used as a sustainable water source.

“Some of what’s done in that study is to look at how the water body refills based on different levels of precipitation, meltwater and so on,” said Elgersma.

The city previously conducted a similar study of the Sylvia Grinnell River.

The total price tag for the long-term water supply portion of the project is estimated to be $19 million.

By 2021, when the current studies are complete, they will be combined with the finalized water storage study, enabling the project to move to the permitting and design phase.

“It’s a big permitting process to use another body of water,” said Elgersma.

During that time the city will also hold community consultations.

Beyond that, the city hopes to start construction by 2023 and complete work in 2025, a year before the city’s existing water licence expires.

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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by Good work staff on

    Council members always get the credit but I’ve been pretty happy with city staff and Elgersma lately. City seems to be a little quicker to address problems or fixes them before they become problems. Not sure if getting rid of a few bad apples at the top was the solution but it’s noticeable.
    Now if we could just fix the terrible plateau and boarding home intersections I’d be really impressed (just add stop signs on Federal Road…lets stop it with this self directing trafic BS)

  2. Posted by General Mills on

    Good work Ms Elgersma.

  3. Posted by Jim on

    I don’t want to be too critical as I think this is an example of the media making a person’s words into nonsense but, if “Apex River is solely dependent on weather and precipitation,” – what other sources of water are being considered? Otherwise, creation of a reservoir is great but, where will it get it’s water? Have reservoirs been created in permafrost in other parts of the world? Is it possible to read the report from EXP Consultants?

    • Posted by Observer on

      You mean reservoirs in permafrost like…Lake Geraldine?

  4. Posted by waterer on

    Doesn’t the city have a man made reservoir next to the water treatment plant? They are currently using it for storage, but that building was built to hold water in case of emergencies. It should be re looked at, and considered.

  5. Posted by Let’s be reasonable on

    Why hasn’t the Sylvia Grinnell River considered as an option to address the water issues in Iqaluit?

    The amount of flow that comes out of Sylvia Grinnell is very significant during the spring time and the amount of water that Iqaluit would require would have little effect on the total amount of available water in that river.

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