Iqaluit suffers second sewage spill

Federal officials probe impact on Koojesse Inlet



The city and its residents weren’t so lucky this time.

In what was the city’s second sewage spill in two weeks, 24,000 litres of raw sewage were released into Koojesse Inlet when a power outage caused pumps to shut down at lift station number one near the library on Feb. 19, Rick Butler, the city’s chief administrative officer, said at a press conference Feb. 20.

“With the spill last week, there was no risk to public safety or the environment, but in this case, we have discharged into the environment,” Butler said solemnly.

“Some spillage has gone into the bay, so we are being up-front about that and saying, ‘yes, we’ve had a spill that’s affected the environment in some way,’ ” Butler said.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans responded on behalf of Environment Canada, and started an investigation, which was handed back to Environment Canada last Friday, said Craig Broome of Environment Canada’s northern division.

“I can’t speak to how the investigation will move forward,” Broome said. “And I don’t like to speak to laying charges at this point, because we’re just initiating the investigation.”

The effect on local fish habitat won’t be known until the DFO finishes their work.

“Typically, the sewage gets treated in the lagoon and pumped out into the bay, so we don’t have a habitat issue until such time that you can establish that there is a habitat, and whatever you put into it is detrimental to it,” said Burt Hunt, the DFO’s area director.

“It’s more evident that there is a water quality issue, in this particular case anyway, than a habitat issue. That’s why there are two different departments looking after two different sections of the Fisheries Act,” Hunt added.

Although marine life may be at risk, there is no risk to the public, Butler said.

“Even if you walk out there, you’d just see a three-metre by three-metre spill area where it looks like a little bit of dirt on the ice, from our perspective,” Butler said.

The city was spared a messy clean-up job, since the sewage quickly seeped through the ice and into the bay. A problem with a fuse box caused power to fail, shutting the pumps down.

Once the pumps stopped moving the sewage through the drains and out into the lagoon, it piled up at the lift station until it spilled over onto the snow, through the ice, and into the bay.

Right now, there’s no alarm system or power backup at the lift stations. The spill was discovered during a routine check by staff around 8:30 a.m., Butler revealed.

Under its proposed $51-million capital plan, the city would install an alarm system and secondary power source this summer.

“Backup power would both get the pumps working, and make sure the alarms were working to alert us of a problem,” Butler said.

But even with a “fancy alarm system,” the city will continue to pay for around-the-clock checks, Butler said.

“When we found the spill, we immediately got to work. The crew pumped sewage out [of the lift station] and were able to get it below the overflow point. I think the guys did a great job in stopping the hemorrage.”

All other lift stations were functioning properly when the spill was discovered. The inoperative station was up and running again by 10:30 a.m., after workers from the Nunavut Power Corp. repaired the phase junction box on the power pole by the lift station.

The inlet suffered significant environmental damage in July 2001, when between 500,040 and 800,000 litres of raw sewage spilled into the open water.

As a result, the city was convicted of Fisheries Act charges in August, 2002.

A judge ordered the city to pay a $10,000 fine, make a $65,000 donation to an environmental damage fund, and invest $35,000 in standard operating procedures and training courses for the city’s public works department.

The first Iqaluit sewage spill, on Feb. 9, leaked 10,000 litres of sewage onto an area of ground near the hospital. Officials say it poses no threat to public health, since the frozen sewage was cleaned up quickly.

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