Leaking water tank forces Grise Fiord to ration water
High Arctic hamlet facing water problems of its own while Iqaluit continues to struggle
Iqaluit isn’t the only Nunavut community struggling with water problems. In the territory’s most northerly community, Grise Fiord, only one of the hamlet’s two water tanks has been working since the fall.
In early October, the hamlet noticed one of the tanks was leaking water, senior administrative officer Daryl Dibblee said.
“Low and behold, half [of the water in] the tank was gone,” he said.
So in mid-November, working with the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Community and Government Services, the hamlet ensured the working tank was filled while the leaking one was emptied.
Grise Fiord has a unique system for water use in Nunavut, as it takes two large above-ground water tanks and fills them with glacier water once a year, Dibblee said. Each tank is 11 metres high, 22 metres in diameter and holds 3.7 million litres, he said. Those tanks then serve as the hamlet’s water supply for the year.
Typically, one water tank is supposed to last six months, said assistant SAO Marty Kuluguqtuq. But with residents conserving the amount of water they use, the water in the remaining tank is expected to last until mid-July.
The hamlet has been planning how much water is used and how much is left by monitoring the tank every three days, Dibblee said.
Currently, the hamlet is delivering up to two and a half truckloads every weekday, he said. In normal times, the average would be three truckloads, but the hamlet has not had to make a serious reduction because it has 50,000 litres of bottled water to use, he added.
To communicate with residents, hamlet representatives have been going on the radio two or three times a week to talk about the need to conserve water, Dibblee said.
“Everyone’s doing their best to conserve and hopefully [the water] lasts,” said Terry Noah, a Grise Fiord resident.
Adding to the vulnerability of Grise Fiord’s water situation is that the only working tank had a problem with its heating valve, which helps keep the water circulating, Dibblee said. The valve was replaced Thursday and the tank’s temperature is back to normal, he added.
But having the only working tank have any type of problem was concerning, he said.
An engineering firm hired by the GN recently assessed the damaged tank and will have a report on what is wrong by the end of next week, Dibblee said.
He added that the plan is to fix the tank by mid-July, but that depends on what the report finds.
A part of the reason for doing the assessment now is to find if the broken tank needs to be replaced, as that procedure will need to be done by the summer, he said.
An alternative to help address Grise Fiord’s water problem is the GN bringing in a reverse-osmosis water unit to desalinate and purify ocean water to make it potable.
But that method has challenges as well, since flying heavy equipment to Grise Fiord is difficult because large airplanes cannot land in the hamlet’s small airport.
The vulnerability of Grise Fiord’s water situation highlights how the hamlet has yet to get a water treatment plant. Dibblee said the hamlet is on the list for one and has asked the GN if it can be more prioritized in getting a plant. But considering the work that has to be done to build a plant, such as settling on the land to use, the hamlet is at least two years away from such a change in its water system, he added.
The Department of Community and Government Services did not respond to a request for comment.