NTWWA ponders Iqaluit’s water shortage and developing new wastewater standard

NTWWA Conference 2017
Registrants at the 2017 Northern Territories Water and Waste Association’s annual conference. Photo Credit: NTWWA.

By David Nesseth

An annual conference for waste and water professionals in Canada’s North has become a critical opportunity to gather together and focus on how to persevere over the unique challenges ever-present in this remote and bitterly cold climate.

The Northern Territories Water and Waste Association’s (NTWWA) annual conference was held in Iqaluit, Nunavut, from November 6-10, 2017 at the Frobisher Inn. This is a scenic spot, where finding a mentor or a spare part may not be easy, and where critical funding can prove elusive and frustrating for professionals devoted to serving their communities.

“It’s hard to have everybody of every discipline in one spot. The North is a big place,” said Arlen Foster, a civil engineering team lead for Stantec in northern Canada. He has been in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, since 2004, and is a past president of the NTWWA. “But it’s helpful to get to know whose running these facilities in these communities, and networking is a big part of it.”

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Staff is quite limited in the North and it can be difficult to keep employees from leaving, said Foster.

“It’s hard to keep the highly skilled. At the end of the day, you either love it or hate it here,” he said, adding that some people enjoy the adventure and opportunity, while others cherish being entrusted with more responsibility and a greater assortment of assignments than they may have had further south.

The other caveat about northern work is how professionals are often unable to take advantage of rapidly evolving wastewater technology. “With that comes complexity, and in the North it’s a challenge to operate and maintain these complexities,” said Foster. “Sometimes simpler is better.”

The 2017 NTWWA conference featured presentations from governments, regulators, researchers, and industry, as well as a two-day operators’ workshop and tradeshow.

While the North may not be able to take full advantage of fast-paced wastewater technology, professionals still look for guidance through regulation. To address the latest on this front, Nelson Pisco from The Standards Council of Canada spoke to attendees about the ongoing work to develop a wastewater standard for the North. It pertains to the planning, design, operation, maintenance and decommissioning of wastewater treatment in northern communities using lagoons and wetland systems. Key aspects to be covered in the standard include:

  • Procedures and methods for collecting information and evaluating the conditions of a potential site.
  • Potential effects of permafrost warming and active layer depth changes on effluent containment and stability of surrounding soil.
  • Impacts from changes in precipitation.
  • Piped or truck collected effluent into sewage lagoons.
  • Detailed field test methods, sampling protocols and lab requirements.

Work on the standard began in fall 2017 and it’s expected to be completed by the summer of 2019, said Pisco. The council is currently recruiting technical committee and working group members.

In a presentation by Matthew Follett, a civil-environmental engineer with Stantec, a question posed to attendees was if Iqaluit could start running out of fresh water by 2024. The city’s water system is aging, pipes are beginning to leak, and climate change is impacting how much water is entering the Lake Geraldine Reservoir that serves Iqaluit’s water needs.

Follett’s data on the reservoir shows that 98% of Iqaluit’s water licence of nearly 1.1 million m3 was used in 2015. A growing population is putting further pressure on the reservoir, to the point that City officials tapped into the Apex River in 2015 to augment the raw water supply. It’s a move that, in the minds of some professionals, needs more research before it can be dubbed as a solution to the water crisis.

In another presentation, Justin Doiron of Dillon Consulting outlined upgrades to the Inuvik water treatment plant in the Northwest Territories, which opened in March 2017. The new $19-million plant allows Inuvik to have a single source of water year-round as opposed to relying on water from Hidden Lake in the summer and the Mackenzie River in the winter. Additional upgrades to the plant included an addition to the existing facility, new packaged water treatment plant, filtration, disinfection and storage, and a year-round river intake and raw water pump station.

The Town of Inuvik received the 2017 Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators Willis Award in the “Under 20,000 Population” category for the project.

Northern professionals will join together again at the 2018 NTWWA annual conference in Yellowknife from November 12 – 16. For more information, visit www.ntwwa.com.

David Nesseth is a writer for ES&E Magazine. This article appears in ES&E Magazine’s February 2018 issue.

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