NIRB recommends green light for Iqaluit’s Apex River pumping project
Screening decision report found the project unlikely to cause significant adverse impacts
The Nunavut Impact Review Board is recommending to the federal government that the City of Iqaluit does not need an environmental assessment to move forward with its plan to reroute water from the Apex River to the Lake Geraldine water supply again this summer, and as needed until June 2026.
According to an April 17 screening decision report issued by the NIRB, the city’s plan to continue pumping annually from the Apex River to the city water supply is “not likely to cause significant public concerns, and it is unlikely to result in significant adverse environmental and social impacts.”
Last July, the City of Iqaluit found its water supply critically low and, thus, unable to meet the city’s needs for the length of winter before the spring thaw and precipitation would replenish the lake.
The city started pumping water from the Apex River to Lake Geraldine to avoid the risk of running out of water.
After the city initiated a water task force to share water-wise practices and new rules, like not washing vehicles and taking showers instead of baths, the city also investigated old pipes and repaired 45 major leaks and bleeds in the system. The city had estimated that up to 40 per cent of the city’s drinkable water was wasted through aging infrastructure.
By mid-September, pumping from Apex River had refilled Lake Geraldine.
Still, on January 11, the NIRB received a referral from the Nunavut Planning Commission to screen the City of Iqaluit’s Apex River Drinking Water Supply project proposal.
The city proposes to withdraw up to 500,000 cubic metres of water annually from the Niaqunguuq River, also known as the Apex River, and surrounding watershed to supplement the Lake Geraldine reservoir.
In the referral, the NPC noted that the project proposal is outside the area of an applicable regional land use plan and would require the City of Iqaluit’s existing water licence to be amended.
The NPC determined that the proposal was a “significant modification” since it required renewing the emergency authorization to withdraw up to 500,0000 cubic metres of water annually from the Apex River and to pump this water overland to the Lake Geraldine reservoir as needed until a permanent water supply plan is in place.
Public feedback focused on similar concerns
On Feb. 13, the NIRB accepted the application and began the screening process, then put out a call for public comments the next day. By March 7, public feedback had been gathered.
It had received comments from three Government of Nunavut departments; the Nunavut Research Institute; Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada; Environment and Climate Change Canada; Fisheries and Oceans Canada–Fisheries Protection Program; Dr. Andrew Medeiros, who has studied the Lake Geraldine watershed, and one other person.
Many of those who commented repeated the same recommendations to the city.
One example is that an archaeological field assessment should be done alone the pumping route.
Another recommendation was that the city provide a written overview of the long-term solution to Iqaluit’s dwindling water supply, as well as other options.
Additionally, various comments suggested that data from the pumping site be made publicly available, that the city provide an explanation as to why the pumping needs to be extended to 2026, and suggested the city confirm with the Hunters and Trappers Association that the area is not an important Inuit commercial fishery zone.
The NIRB recommends that Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada impose 23 terms and conditions on pumping project.
The board also recommends that the city produce annual reports for the project and update the spill contingency plan with current emergency phone numbers.
Additionally, it recommends that CIRNAC conduct regular inspections and that Fisheries and Oceans Canada should provide evaluations on the effects on fish at Apex River.
The NIRB’s recommendations have been sent to Northern Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, but the federal government has yet to respond.
The proposal also requires that the Nunavut Water Board recommend an ammendment to the city’s water licence.