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Iqaluit’s water emergency enters second month

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Members of the 4 Engineer Support Regiment operate a reverse osmosis water purification unit as part of Operation LENTUS at the Sylvia Grinnell River in Iqaluit. Photo credit: CAF/JTF North

Canadian Armed Forces Operation LENTUS remains active in Iqaluit as the northern city’s state of emergency over drinking water contamination enters its second month.

Some two dozen military personnel have been using mobile units to pump, pressurize and filter water from the Sylvia Grinnell River using reverse osmosis. But, as the cold weather emerges, the system has been challenged by temperatures approaching -15°C, and at times ice has had to be broken, and hoses thawed, to keep filling efforts steady.

“The cold water poses a threat to water truck pumps and other equipment and elevates safety concerns,” local officials announced in a public statement. “Continuing to fill trucks at the river increases the risk of delays to water delivery for the short and long term.”

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City officials are now using trucked water services filled from the booster station at the city’s treatment plant. This change, however, means the return of a do-not-consume order for the city’s trucked water, meaning it can only be used for laundry, bathing and dish washing.

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Since the state of emergency began on October 12 over the presence of hydrocarbons in the holding tanks for the North Clear Well at the city’s water treatment plant, an investigation revealed that a diesel fuel leak from years ago may have infiltrated the system.

Iqaluit’s 8,300 residents have been forced to buy bottled water, turn to city-run filling stations or draw their own water from the river. To date, more than 750,000 litres of bottled water have been distributed to the community, a news release stated.

“Though some [water bottles] are being diverted from the landfill through the recycling program that the Arctic Co-op and NSSI have spearheaded, the city is conscious of the large number of plastics that are coming into the community, and is encouraging residents to reuse their own bottles or jugs to source the RO water,” a local announcement stated.

The City of Iqaluit has completed remedial work to remove hydrocarbons from the water treatment plant and treated the water reservoir.

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, told media that he has heard “rumours and stories” about rashes from the water contamination, but added that there has been no formal diagnosis linked to the water quality.

Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell called a special council meeting for Monday to release a timeline of events and test results on the water situation to the public.

Presently, testing of Iqaluit’s water is coming back clean; however, the state of emergency has been extended until at least November 23.

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