Commission tackles Nunavik’s woeful water system

After public hearings earlier this year, Quebec’s water management commission has poured out a bucket-load of recommendations aimed at improving water management in Nunavik.


MONTREAL — Quebec’s water management commission, the BAPE or Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement, has finally spoken, and although its report tabled last week in Quebec City still hasn’t reached Kuujjuaq, when it does, Nunavik’s regional and local authorities are likely to be very happy indeed.

That’s because the BAPE report shows its commissioners actually listened to what people from Nunavik had to say.

Cree and Inuit had both condemned the BAPE commission for marginalizing the Kativik Environmental Advisory Committee, the body set up by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

But unlike the Cree, Inuit still used the opportunity to tell Quebec about how bad Nunavik’s water management systems are these days.

At hearings held last year in Nunavik and Montreal, they gave BAPE commissioners an earful on the use and protection of water resources.

Residents of Kuujjuaq and Kuujjuaraapik, along with representatives from the Kativik Regional Government and the Makivik Corporation didn’t spare any details when describing the region’s polluted drinking water, unsavory waste dumping practices and hundreds of potentially contaminated mineral exploration and outfitting sites.

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The land of boiled water

BAPE commissioners learned that Nunavimmiut are often told to boil their drinking water thanks to the current — and inadequate — monitoring and regulation program.

The commissioners heard how Nunavik’s waste water management isn’t much more efficient, with several communities, including Kuujjuaq, population 2000, still trucking and discharging raw sewage at a site outside of town.

In Kuujjuaraapik, residents described how the riverside location of their pumping station puts water quality at risk, since there’s often salt seeping into the water supply.

Meanwhile, Cree in the neighbouring community of Whapmagoostui are much more fortunate, due to their American-built aqueduct and sewer system, similar to the one in Iqaluit.

Regional officials said there are few resources for the clean-up and inspection of old mineral exploration sites, and only limited control over the continuing stresses on Nunavik’s water resources from mining and outfitting activities.

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They also complained about the large amounts of money that municipalities must pay to Hydro-Québec to heat water pipes that are at risk of freezing in the winter.

In its lengthy report, the BAPE makes several recommendations that, if implemented, should go a long way towards improving the situation in Nunavik.

The report says:

* Nunavik’s “unsatisfactory” waste water disposal system should be exchanged for one that’s “efficient and well-adapted to the milieu,” and a study should look at the economic and technical feasibility of utilidors and other water systems;

* Quebec needs to create a protection plan to prevent the contamination of water resources in Nunavik;

* Quebec should consult with Nunavimmiut to see which rivers can be considered “heritage” rivers requiring special protection;

* Quebec needs to make an inventory of mining and outfitting sites;

* Mining companies and outfitters should make a statement to the KRG on their intended water use, while Quebec’s environment department should conduct impact studies, so there is “continual and rigorous control” to prevent contamination — “the principle of the polluter pays should apply.”

* Quebec should consider giving responsibility for recommending land and water use permits to the KRG;

* Quebec and the KRG should mount an information campaign to inform the public and local municipal workers about keeping reservoirs and equipment clean and safe;

* Regulations need to be changed to permit more efficient testing, such as the use of the Colilert system;

* A task force of municipal, provincial and federal officials should decide who’s responsible for the state of water in Kuujjuaraapik, solve the problem of salt water infiltration into its water supply, and look at the possibility of linking Kuujjuaraapik to Whapmagoostui’s utilidor system;

* There should be an inventory and analysis of ground water resources in Nunavik, and Hydro-Québec should provide information on these resources;

* Hydro-Québec needs to change its rules so that Inuit communities using heating cables to supply water will be charged $7.18 per kilowatt/ hr., instead of the present $58.57 per kilowatt/hr.

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