Iqaluit seeks new emergency fix for another looming water shortage

Low rainfall leads to record low levels at Lake Geraldine reservoir

Here’s how water levels at the Lake Geraldine water reservoir looked this past Aug. 2. Matthew Hamp, the city’s director of engineering and public works, said the reservoir is at the lowest level ever recorded for this time of year, due to record low precipitation in 2019. (Photo by Jim Bell)

By Jim Bell

To ensure Iqaluit’s Lake Geraldine water reservoir contains enough water to make it through the winter, Iqaluit municipal officials want the Nunavut Water Board’s permission to start pumping water as soon as possible from a nearby body of water they call Unnamed Lake.

That’s because—due to record low rainfall and snowfall in 2019—the volume of water at Lake Geraldine is at its lowest level ever for this time of year, Matthew Hamp, the city’s director of engineering and public works, told reporters on Aug. 2.

This map, prepared by the city’s consultant, Nunami Stantec, shows where Unnamed Lake is located in relation to Apex River and Lake Geraldine. (Nunami Stantec)

“In 2019, Iqaluit has experienced the lowest precipitation in recorded history and will thus not be able to refill the reservoir solely from Apex River,” a city fact sheet says.

Flow rates for rivers around Iqaluit are also at record low levels due to low precipitation.

To mitigate that, the city wants, by Aug. 15, to pump as much as 700,000 cubic metres of water from Unnamed Lake into the Apex River and from there into Lake Geraldine.

To that end, the city went to the water board this past July 10 and filed an application for an emergency water licence amendment to pump water from Apex River.

Then they replaced that application on July 31 with a proposal to also pump from Unnamed Lake.

Nunavut minister declares state of emergency

To back the city’s application, Lorne Kusugak, the Nunavut minister of community and government services, on sent the water board a letter July 31 that declares a state of emergency under the Emergency Measures Act.

“Access to clean water is critical to human health, and it is the interest of ensuring the health and safety of Iqalummiut that the project be carried out without delay,” Kusugak said.

Designating the situation as an emergency will help the city avoid a protracted regulatory process and ensure they get a rapid decision from the water board.

That’s important, because the city needs to ensure Lake Geraldine is filled to capacity before ice begins to form this fall.

Lake Geraldine stops accumulating water after freeze-up, usually around mid-October, and can’t be replenished until after the spring melt brings fresh runoff water into the reservoir.

This time, city must pump more water

And to do that, they need a lot more water than they needed this time last year, when the city pursued a similar kind of one-time-only emergency water amendment that allowed them to pump extra water from the Apex River, Hamp said.

In August 2018, the city needed about 400,000 cubic metres of water to top up the reservoir, Hamp said.

The city, however, caught a break. Because of high rainfall in September, the city needed only about 200,000 cubic metres of water from the Apex River to restore Lake Geraldine to a safe level last year.

But this year, Lake Geraldine likely needs as much as 700,000 cubic metres more to make it through until spring, Hamp said.

The city has dropped these pipes off near a pumping site on the Apex River, to get an early start on work aimed at replenishing Lake Geraldine before freeze-up this year. (Photo by Jim Bell)

Unnamed Lake is located northeast of Lake Geraldine, about three kilometres from a pumping station site on the Apex River off the Road to Nowhere.

The city chose Unnamed Lake after consulting elders and member of the hunters and trappers organization, Hamp said.

The city has already dropped off pipes at a pumping station site on the Apex River, and will fly needed equipment by helicopter to Unnamed Lake, Hamp said.

Once work starts on the emergency project, it will likely take eight weeks to transfer enough water from Unnamed Lake into Apex River and on to Lake Geraldine, the city says.

Longer-term water licence process continues

Meanwhile, a longer-term water licence amendment application that Iqaluit filed with the water board earlier this year is still with the regulatory system.

Under that application, the city seeks permission to pump 500,000 cubic metres of water from Apex River into Lake Geraldine every year from now until 2026.

It also asks that the amount of water that Iqaluit is legally allowed to withdraw from Lake Geraldine be increased from 1.1 million cubic metres per year to two million cubic metres per year.

The Nunavut Impact Review Board, in a screening decision, has already concluded that that proposal is not likely to cause significant public concern, and is unlikely to result in significant adverse environmental and social effects.

The plan is now in the hands of the Nunavut Water Board, which has scheduled a two-day public hearing on the proposal this week in Iqaluit, at the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board office at 1104D Ikaluktuutiak Drive, on Thursday, Aug. 8, and Friday, Aug. 9, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

You can find information on the application at the water board’s FTP-based public registry here.

And you can find information on this year’s emergency water licence amendment here.

As for the future, city officials say it’s likely that from now on, they’ll have to pump water from Apex River every year.

“If we get really good run-off in a couple of years, we might not have to, but we’re anticipating that we should be prepared to do this every year,” Hamp said.

And for the future, beyond 2026, the city, because of continued growth, will likely have to look at new permanent solutions to its water supply problems, including pumping water from either Sylvia Grinnell River or Unnamed Lake, and expanding the holding capacity of Lake Geraldine, Hamp said.

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(16) Comments:

  1. Posted by Thirst on

    Why have they waited until the end of summer to pump? All that fresh water, out to sea now.

    • Posted by Water watcher on

      My understanding is that the City’s application to pump water into Lake Geraldine was submitted to the Water Board months ago. The delay at this point seems to be the water board’s administration. The City has the equipment here and has been ready to pump since the beginning of summer.

    • Posted by Red Bear on

      Because, despite warnings/concerns from the public, elders, and the GN that the dry winter was not going to replenish the water supply, the city was plugging its ears and covering its eyes, saying that the situation was fine. They even paid for a biased engineering report to back up their willful blindness by saying that Lake Geraldine had enough water to supply the town, and that the Apex River would be an adequate plan B.

      It’s criminal that they delayed this long before acknowledging the problem and allowing the GN/feds to take action. How strict will the water rationing be this winter, I wonder?

  2. Posted by Same Problem – Different Year on

    This issue has been going on since before 1992. The fact that it’s not resolved is unacceptable!! Every year it’s the same thing and every year nothing changes. Treated water continues to be wasted on fighting fires, leaking utilidor pipes, filling a swimming pool, and making beer. Time for the city to stop blowing smoke and come up with a permanent fix!

  3. Posted by Water user on

    How can there be a water shortage when we live beside a river that flows all year round?
    Its because of poor planning from both parties the GN and the city and we have known for long time this was coming because of limited flow from the creek that fills our water plus possible contamination from the US military site at upper base.
    Its just a fine example of poor planning from both parties which will result in poor quality water supply and probably higher chlorine in our water this year to compensate for the poor quality from limited flow because its not a river its a damn creek.
    Thanks to the city I will be hauling my own water from the river for our personal water use for drinking, tea and coffee and I suggest everybody does the same.
    Inuit always try and get their water source from a fast flowing river when ever they can for quality purposes so I suggest to try your coffee or tea from the river and compared the to crap water we are getting now.
    That crappy water is even showing up in our toilet bowels because it leaves a film of crap in the toilet that’s how bad it is.

  4. Posted by Gobble Gobble on

    Hey, look, they’re going to start pumping from the lake I was suggesting when they starting pumping from the Apex River in 2017.

  5. Posted by pissed off on

    The City is always running from one crisis to another.

    Remember when the next election comes around.

    Remember the salt water to fresh water plant that we spent around $800K on last year!!!

    What happened to it ???


    • Posted by thirsty pete on

      Be happy they aren’t making use of that desalination plant. Those things are terrible for the environment. It would needlessly create a lot of other problems. Google them. It’s one thing to use them when there is no fresh water source, but that isn’t the case here. The problem was just ignored for years.

  6. Posted by Any hydrologists involved? on

    Perhaps Mathew Hamp’s comments in this and another news piece on this issue were not quoted entirely by the media, but he appeared to suggest that no hydrology study was done to determine whether the unnamed lake can be a sustainable source of water. It appears that unnamed lake is at a relatively high elevation so I do not see how it could be fully replenished as no stream appear to flow to it. Of course, I am not a hydrologist and I do not have the knowledge of local Inuit elders. I saw Hamp being quoted as saying something like “we’ll try this pumping from unnamed lake this year and see whether it gets replenished”. I realize data is probably needed for hydrologists to understand unnamed lake and perhaps data is not available yet and will be acquired this year, but that sort of statement and the city being in an emergency mode despite the increase in the water demand having been entirely foreseeable for a while (growing city and infrastructure for years) do not inspire confidence in our city’s water management. Obviously they are in a tight spot but can’t there be better planning on this issue?

  7. Posted by Why oh why oh why on

    700,000 cubic meters of water to be pumped.

    Question 1: what is the capacity of Lake Geraldine?
    Question 2: how much water does Iqaluit bill its residents for each year?
    Question 3: has the city of Iqaluit really reached the limit of its water supply?
    Question 4: if Iqaluit has reached its limit, will the City put birth control into its water supply to keep Iqaluit’s population from growing?
    Question 5: if Iqaluit has reached its limits, will the GN transfer all vacant positions to other communities?
    Question 6: how far are each of Nunavut’s other communities from their capacity limits?
    Question 7: who is monitoring the growth of Nunavut communities and their approach to their capacity limits?
    Question 8: why have the MLAs not discussed these limits in the Legislature?
    Question 9: when will the MLAs address these capacity issues?

    • Posted by Insanity Alert on

      Good day folks, I now present the most ridiculous comment ever made on NN. ROTFLMAO I do not believe I have ever seen a comment as silly as this one.

      Quote: “Question 4: if Iqaluit has reached its limit, will the City put birth control into its water supply to keep Iqaluit’s population from growing?”

      Aside from the massive human rights abuse that this person is proposing, forced sterilization of the entire population without their knowledge of consent (ever hear of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?), the premise is totally false.

      Iqaluit is too small and needs to get a lot bigger, because when you get bigger, all kinds of good things happen, a larger tax base, better economies of scale, more amenities, more jobs, more volunteer groups, more recreation, more small businesses, a more attractive community.

      This water thing is a temporary glitch that is not all that serious. The proposed temporary solution is already on its way and they will start pumping soon, probably before September. Problem solved for this year.

      For a permanent solution there is lots of fresh water out there, lakes and rivers, such as the Sylvia Grinnell River.

      All it will take is engineering know-how, planning and money. Money is the biggest factor because installing all the pipes and pumping equipment will cost a lot of money, but it can be done. It just takes money and planning

      All you negative complainers, why don’t start getting positive about this and start lobbying for positive solutions, like getting the senior levels of government, the GN and GoC to pay attention to this issue and help the city of Iqaluit solve this,

      • Posted by ROTFLMAO on

        “All it will take is engineering know-how, planning and money.”
        Insanity alert: When have any of these not been in short supply?
        As far as getting people “to pay attention to this issue and help the city of Iqaluit solve this”, that seems to be the intent of 9 questions.
        Sylvia Grinnell River may or may not be the answer for Iqaluit, but what about for Iloolik, built on a small sand island, or Grise Fiord, which gets its drinking water by collecting snow in a big barrel?
        Keep thinking, keep asking.

        • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

          It may be time to let some of these communities die and start consolidating. Will be lots of opposition I’m sure, but we can’t afford to sustain this small and economically unviable hamlets forever.

  8. Posted by Details on

    Maybe I’ve missed it, but has/can the City provide specific details as to what is causing the decrease in water supply? Do we know for sure it is evaporation/leaks in the utilidor/usage (fire fighting and other)/the reservoir is not holding water anymore? A combination of all possibly. If it is evaporation, maybe a cover/barrier would help (they exist). If leaking reservoir/utilidor, that needs to be fixed without hesitation. Where is the City’s ability to think outside the box a little? We aren’t the first to deal with this issue, it’s necessary to fix this permanently – not with car wash bans and home usage tips on posters. Moving water between bodies of water is a quick and very temporary solution and not very clever or innovative.

  9. Posted by Let’s consult the General Plan?? on

    Oh right, it hasn’t been updated since 2015…
    But I would nevertheless draw your attention to the section that says there will be no new development until we have a sustainable water source. Yup, it says that.
    I wonder if the City has plans for a new General Plan? Perhaps not, since they ignore the old one.

  10. Posted by Anne Crawford on

    It’s a CREEK.
    It is a creek with exveptiinally low water levels this year.
    Go pick on a RIVER

    Let us see a 5 year plan of some kind please. What are our options?
    This month to month crisis is driving everyone crazy.

Comments are closed.