Filtration milestone for NWT water treatment plants coincides with call for new facility

Great Bear Lake in NWT
Since 2001, partnerships between the federal level, NWT and community governments have resulted in 23 upgraded water treatment systems. Pictured is Great Bear Lake. Photo credit: NWT Water Stewardship.

After decades of simple truck-fill water stations with chlorine disinfection, communities in the Northwest Territories (NWT) have reached the milestone achievement of having filtration in all of its water treatment plants, government officials announced.

The NWT truck-fill stations did not have the capability to filter drinking water for dirt, metals and other health-impacting substances. But, there are no longer any communities using the trucks as of October 5, 2020, a day NWT officials called a “proud moment”.

Since 2001, partnerships between the federal level, NWT and community governments have resulted in 23 upgraded water treatment systems. Sixteen communities have constructed new, modern water treatment plants, and an additional seven have gone through mid-life retrofits or upgrades to meet current standards.

“This essential infrastructure, funded through the Investing in Canada plan, are key to ensuring that our communities continue to have access to safe and reliable drinking water,” announced Michael McLeod, MP for NWT.

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Communities within NWT have made other strides, too. Now, all 30 NWT water plants are operated by local residents employed by the community. Twenty-three of the plants now have certified local operators.

NWT Water Filtration Map
Water filtration map courtesy of NWT Water Stewardship. (Click to enlarge)

Reaching the milestone of eliminating truck-fill stations came following approvals for Wekweètì’s new water plant.

“Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) is actively working with the remaining communities to upgrade the certification of their operators and provide additional oversight while these operators are training,” federal officials announced in a statement. 

Unusual timing

But, the timing of NWT’s milestone announcement coincided with a new report from NWT’s Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, recommending that the Town of Hay River build a new water treatment plant within five years. The plant would cost an estimated $15 million to replace one that is wearing down and not meeting modern standards.

Residents of Hay River and nearby communities spent more than 100 days under boil-water advisories this year, often due to turbidity.

The current plant was built to adhere to health regulations from 1986, the report states, at which time Hay River added two filters and chemical coagulants to the facility. A third filter was added in 2004.

A modern water plant that uses this type of conventional system would include coagulation and flocculation vessels, the report notes, allowing chemicals to properly mix with raw water prior to filtration.

“Health regulations have since become more strict, and the plant cannot meet them consistently. There has also been a noted change in raw water quality, especially this year (2020),” the report warns.

Additionally, the report notes that the Hay River facility has only one certified operator, with no designated back-up. It recommends hiring one to three class II certified operators to assist with process optimizations.

The report suggests it could cost more to restore the Hay River facility than to replace it.

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