Water and wastewater treatment challenges in Canada’s North

Overlooking Iqaluit from the city's highest point.

By Thomas Rohner

The 2015 Northern Territories Water and Waste Association’s annual conference, held in Iqaluit, Nunavut, from November 20 – 22, was the little conference that could. For organizer Pearl Benyk, one of the highlights was that it happened at all, despite problems created by fickle Arctic weather, expensive air travel and restrictive flying schedules.

“It wouldn’t be a conference anywhere in the North if some people weren’t weathered out,” Benyk joked after the conference. In the end, eight of the 60 registered participants were weathered out, but those who did make it to Nunavut’s capital enjoyed three days of presentations, workshops, networking and local entertainment.

“This is the one time in the year when these people get to network and hear what others in the territories are doing,” Benyk said.

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Federal cabinet minister Hunter Tootoo, from Nunavut’s Kivalliq region on the western coast of Hudson Bay, provided the keynote address on November 22 and reminded the audience how important their work is in ensuring remote communities’ access to clean water.

Hunter Tootoo, minister responsible for fisheries, oceans and Canadian coastguard, gave his first remarks Nov. 22 at the NTWWA since being appointed minister.
Hunter Tootoo, minister responsible for fisheries, oceans and Canadian coastguard, gave his first remarks Nov. 22 at the NTWWA since being appointed minister.

“Groups such as yours, discussing cutting-edge technologies and how they can be provided in our unique northern environment, are key,” the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard said.

There are many unique challenges that both operators and scientists involved in water and wastewater treatment face in Canada’s North. Justin Hazenberg, an engineering team leader for the Government of Northwest Territories’ water and sanitation efforts, said many of those unique challenges can be boiled down to logistics.

“Down south you can go to the hardware store; you can get parts shipped to you fairly quickly, and you can get an electrician or a plumber, sometimes within an hour, if you need to,” said Hazenberg, a long time NTWWA board member and past president.

By contrast, all of Nunavut’s 25 communities are only accessible by plane during the winter months; the same goes for the overwhelming majority of the NWT’s 30-odd communities. That means that small parts required by plant operators in most communities need to be flown in, and large parts need to be shipped up from the south during the sealift season – about three months during the summer.

“Also, you’ve got a limited pool of professionals and much higher energy costs to contend with,” Hazenberg added.

While he is wary of rushing ahead with new technologies, some advances can make a big difference. For example, he made a presentation on remote monitoring of the more than 20 communities in the NWT that he supports from Yellowknife. The relatively recent introduction of 3G cellular technology in those communities has enabled him to provide much more efficient support.

Iqaluit's water treatment plant.
Iqaluit’s water treatment plant.

“Now I can connect to the computers in the water plants and read all the data local operators are reading,” Hazenberg said. Previously, he’d been using a dial-up system to connect to those computers, but, because of bad reception on phone lines, that was often a frustrating exercise. Also, the new 3G technology means fewer expensive flights into the communities.

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  1. Could you please provide us with full names for researchers in order to get more info about this topic


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