Nunavik water often unsafe to drink


MONTREAL-While the Quebec Commission on Water Management held its hearings in Montreal, in September its members did travel to Kuujjuaq and Kuujuaraapik, where they heard a litany of problems from local residents.

In Kuujjuaraapik, they learned how the riverside location of the pumping station puts local water quality at risk.

“Last year was quite something,” the municipality’s secretary-treasurer, Pierre Roussel, told the commission. “We experienced a low level of the river, more than what we’ve ever seen, and we had a very long-term problem with infiltration of salt water in our drinking water. It’s not only a health hazard, but it’s also very hard for all types of equipment.”

A new $5 million water treatment system planned to begin operation in Kuujjuaraapik in January, 2001, should alleviate some of the problems.

But Cree in the neighbouring community of Whapmagoostui are already much more fortunate. Between 1955 and 1958, the American army built an aqueduct and sewer system for their miliary base and federal government money paid to for a link to the Cree village in 1985.

“The Crees have their own water station and aqueduct,” Roussel said. “But the Inuit, we still deliver water by truck and collect water… there’s no treatment at all. It goes right into the bay like that.”

Johnny Adams, the chairman of the Kativik Regional Government, told the Quebec Commission on Water Management last week in Montreal that the Quebec department of municipal affairs has refused to connect Kuujjuaraapik to the system.

He also said the commission’s Regional Water Resources Profile wrongly implied that aqueduct and sewer systems could not be built in Nunavik because of permafrost.

“Iqaluit, the new capital of Nunavut,began using an aqueduct and sewer system nearly 30 years ago,” Adams told the hearings.

“Despite greater risks of contamination, the decision to use a cistern-truck system to deliver drinking water in Nunavik was based on economics, not on technological constraints. The current situation in Kuujjuaraapik is a telling example.”

Residents in Kuujjuaraapik also told the commission that they are worried about the effects of the sewage in the bay on shellfish and about contamination by methyl mercury, a by-product of the vast flooding caused by hydro-electric projects, on fish and seals.

In the nearby community of Umiujaq, the water management situation is even worse.

A $2 million dollar reservoir was supposed to provide a steady supply of water to residents. Built in 1986, it was blasted into solid rock.

But Umiujaq Mayor Robbie Tookalook told the commission that there was never any money to properly run the system.

“There was even a drowning in the reservoir,” Tookalook said.

The community now trucks its water from a nearby shallow lake.

“There is no way they will ever drink the water from the water trucks because it’s too full of bugs,” Tookalook said.

Raw sewage is dumped right outside the community.

“There’s one creek that is very contaminated due to the disposal of sewage,” Tookalook said. “The creek is very contaminated, including the fish.”

Some of $22.5 million presently earmarked for water management in Nunavik may be directed towards Umiujaq, but Adams told the commission in Kuujjuaq that he hopes the Quebec government will take more action after it’s received all the recommendations.

“I think this is where you have the opportunity to be able to address the issues on a serious basis,” Adams said.

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