The land of boiled water: Nunavik water management system failing

Nunavik officials lambasted the Quebec government last week at a meeting of the Quebec Commission on Water Management.


MONTREAL — Nunavik’s water treatment and waste disposal methods are failing miserably.

That’s the message that Johnny Adams, the chair of the Kativik Regional Government, delivered to Quebec’s Commission on Water Management at its hearings last week in Montreal.

Adams said that not enough thought and money has been invested into the development of efficient and clean water management systems for Nunavik.

The commission is looking into Quebec’s policy on water, including the uses of water, water management, the health of rivers, sources of pollution and priorities for future action.

Adams described communities in Nunavik whose residents have to boil drinking water constantly and dump raw sewage directly onto the land.

“We’re not asking for swimming pools, libraries or recreational centres,” Adams said to the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement. “We’re talking the most basic needs.”

While the James Bay Cree condemned the BAPE water commission’s review, Makivik Corporation and the KRG decided to submit a joint brief to the commission.

In this brief, they criticize the nature of the commission’s proceedings, as well as Quebec’s lack of action in bringing Nunavik’s water management system up to par with other regions in the province.

At the hearings, the Makivik Corporation’s vice-president, Mark T. Gordon, told the commission that it had marginalized the Kativik Environmental Advisory Committee, the body set up by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

Tommy Grey, the head of the KECQ, participated in the commission, but Gordon emphasized that the KECQ — not the BAPE commission — should be the main consultative body on water management questions in Nunavik.

Gordon also pointed out that the commission’s public documents contained factual errors and oversights.

Six of Quebec’s major rivers are in Nunavik, constituting one of the largest watersheds in Quebec, but two rivers were not even mentioned in the commission’s documents, said Gordon.

“These documents also put Nunavik in the so-called region 10,” Adams added. “Such bureaucratic labeling does not reflect the social, political and economic reality of Nunavik. Moreover, on Nov. 5, the Inuit signed an accord with Quebec and the federal government concerning the creating of a commission of the establishment of a Nunavik self-government, not a “region 10″ self-government.”

In their brief, Makivik and the KRG listed the many shortcomings in how Nunavik’s drinking and waste water are managed.

For example, Nunavimmiut are often told to boil their drinking water because samples sent for testing at Southern-based labs don’t arrive within the required 48 hours due to extreme weather.

While 20 per cent of the samples tested do show contamination, another 20 per cent are rejected because they arrive late.

In both these instances, residents are told to boil drinking water for at least at least seven days. As a result, in many communities residents are almost always boiling their water.

Adams said the current monitoring and regulation program doesn’t do much to protect the health of residents.

“They also unduly undermine the confidence of the population in the quality of drinking water being delivered to them,” Adams said.

At its best, the unfiltered water is laced with heavy doses of Javex to keep bacteria levels down.

And faced with constant notices to boil, most residents prefer to head off to local rivers and lakes to get supplies of fresh drinking water.

Nunavik’s waste water management system isn’t much more sophisticated. Several communities, including Kuujjuaq, still truck and discharge raw sewage outside.

Other stresses on Nunavik’s water resources come from mining activities, as little or no resources have been provided for the clean-up and inspection of old exploration sites.

Since 1988, the Quebec government has also allowed each sport hunting outfitter to build a maximum of 12 mobile camps every year for caribou hunting.

“Since no resources have been made available for inspection and monitoring activities, it is unknown whether outfitters properly clean up the camp sites at the end of the hunting season,” Adams said.

Nunavik officials made several recommendations aimed at bringing Nunavik up to Quebec standards, including the creation of a task force with representatives from Quebec, the Makivik Corporation and the KRG, which would coordinate development projects in Nunavik and look at delegating the issuing of permits for mining and outfitting to the KRG.

The brief also calls for the indentification and clean-up of abandoned mining sites.

It also asks Quebec to purchase some new water testing technology, the “Colilert” method, which tests for harmful bacteria on site within 24 hours and is currently used in 253 aboriginal communities in Canada.

If the Colilert method, which costs $5000 to install, were used, notices to boil could be lifted within 48 hours instead of a week.

Included in the recommendations of the joint KRG-Makivik submission is a demand for Hydro-Québec to charge less for the power it supplies to Nunavik’s water treatment plants.

Electrically-heated cables around pipes ensure a constant flow of water into these plants, but Hydro-Québec, ever-watchful of the amount of energy it furnishes at low, domestic rates to Nunavik, says such heating cables are wasteful and wants to charge municipalities a higher rate per kilowatt hour.

“In 1996, a Hydro-Québec representative even went so far as threatening not to connect the two newly-built water plants in Ivujivik and Quaqtaq because heating cables were part of the system,” Adams said.

The brief also called for more money to train water plant operators and build waste water facilities.

Adams said that Quebec should find the money to implement the KRG’s regional master plan which would remedy many of the problems related to water management.

Developed at Quebec’s behest, this master plan would cost more than $70 million to carry out, but so far, the KRG has only received $45 million.

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