Iqalummiut await answers about suspected petroleum in water

City sees long lineups at fill stations, stores sold out of water bottles

Iqaluit residents line up to fill jugs of water at a fill station near the library on Wednesday morning. (Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

By Mélanie Ritchot

With schools shut down and many Iqaluit residents recovering from a late night spent trying to get their hands on clean drinking water, residents are waiting for answers about potential traces of petroleum in their municipal drinking water.

On Tuesday evening, stores sold out of bottled water and jugs, residents collected river water in the pouring rain, and parking lots filled with cars waiting for hours for water trucks to arrive.

Iqaluit residents flocked to the river to fill jugs, pots and bowls with water Wednesday night, as the city pumped water into trucks for delivery. (Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

Earlier that day the City of Iqaluit declared a state of local emergency and told residents not to drink tap water after petroleum was believed to have been found in the water supply.

Despite efforts to set up last-minute water filling stations at the Arctic Winter Games arena and in the library area, the city struggled to pump water from the river into their trucks for delivery.

Extra equipment like pumps and hoses were flown in overnight from Pond Inlet to help the situation, Iqaluit mayor Kenny Bell said in an interview.

This resulted in long waits for residents, with many deciding to fill up at the river themselves. Some Iqalummiut who waited it out got their jugs filled around midnight.

Wednesday morning, the first water truck of the day arrived at the only filling station still set up in town, near the library, around 11:30 a.m.

Taylor Matchett, a teacher and mother of two toddlers, was one of about 50 residents waiting in line when the truck arrived.

Because schools were closed and Matchett didn’t have to work, she said she could stand in line as long as she needed to.

“There are other people in the community who aren’t going to have jugs, they’re not going to have a way to get here, they can’t afford $32 for a case of water,” she said.

Taylor Matchett, a local teacher and mother of two young children, stands in line to fill water jugs Wednesday morning. (Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

“We’re very fortunate, but others in the community are definitely on our minds and in our hearts,” Matchett said.

In many ways, the community came together Tuesday night, with residents offering rides to the river or offering on social media to fill others’ jugs for them.

“I hope the city takes care of everyone,” Matchett said.

The night before, Matchett said her husband waited for the water trucks to arrive at the AWG arena for two hours, then eventually changed plans and got his hands on a 24-pack of water bottles for over $30 at Northmart.

“[The price] is crazy but we needed it, we have two young children,” Machett said.

Matchett said they will save the rest of the bottled water for the kids to drink and boil the water from the jug she filled Wednesday for baths and other necessities.

The city advised residents to boil water from the water trucks and fill stations, and water they’ve gathered themselves from the river.

It is also advising pregnant women not to shower in the water, or parents not to bathe infants in it.

Despite schools being closed, Matchett said her children’s’ daycare stayed open on Wednesday but kids could only go if they had three bottles of water to bring with them.

Another resident waiting in line, Abigail Emon, said she and her roommate struggled to buy bottled water Tuesday night.

“Northmart was so busy we couldn’t even get in, and Ventures was so busy we couldn’t park,” she said.

After checking a few convenience stores, they found three small water bottles, coming to a total of $25.

They couldn’t try any of the city’s fill stations because they didn’t have any jugs, she said.

Today, her roommate found what she said must have been the two last jugs left in town to buy at Arctic Ventures, which is now sold out of jugs.

Arctic Ventures (pictured here) and Northmart have posted signs saying they are out of water jugs. (Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

Emon got the two small jugs filled at the water station this morning, but she said she wasn’t sure how people who live in housing units with piped city water will be getting water in the coming days.

Residents with trucked water services — meaning water tanks in their homes that get filled periodically by trucks — are being asked to empty their tanks so the city can fill it with water from the river.

Iqalummiut have been reporting a gas-like odour coming from their taps for about two weeks and some have said their water felt oily.

On Oct. 12 the city hired an engineering firm to investigate further, after their own tests came back clean and residents were told the water was safe for consumption.

The city initially said its daily water tests came back “satisfactory” and suggested chlorine might have been the cause of the odour.

Samples of the water have been sent to a laboratory in the south for further testing, with results expected back in about five days, as stated in Tuesday’s council meeting.

On Wednesday, all Government of Nunavut buildings in Iqaluit closed for the afternoon due to the issue with the water supply, according to a news release. They are expected to reopen Thursday for regular business hours.

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