The Canadian Armed Forces will step in to help with the Iqaluit water crisis.
The city has been in a state of emergency since October 12, when staff confirmed evidence of fuel pollution in the city’s treated water supply. Local residents have been told that the water is not potable even if it is filtered and boiled.
On Friday, Public Security Secretary Bill Blair said the federal government had agreed to a request for help from Nunavut.
“We’ll always be there to help Canadians deal with an emergency,” Blair tweeted. “We approved an application … for [Canadian Forces] Support to give the people of Iqaluit access to clean drinking water. “
Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan also tweeted that the military “will be on the ground in Iqaluit to help produce drinking water for the people of Iqaluit.”
Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell said Friday night that an application was filed with the Canadian government last week to repair the city’s long-term water supply, which he said was “under $ 180 million.”
“That didn’t include the treatment center yet, so you know there is a great need,” he said at a press conference. “[We’re] I will definitely need the Canadian government’s help to fix our entire water crisis, which has now been going on for six years. “
📍Nunavut: Ours @CanadianForces-Members will always be there to support communities in need. In response to a request for help, we will be on site in Iqaluit to help produce drinking water for the people of Iqaluit. https://t.co/y4uGRpxcbi
Possible soil or groundwater pollution
Amy Elgersma, Iqaluit’s chief administrative officer, said an investigation had indicated “potential contamination of the soil or groundwater” outside the water treatment plant. She said this was “possibly washed out into one of the city’s two water tanks at the water treatment plant.”
She said Phase 2 of an environmental impact assessment – the investigation of the subsurface – has begun.
“We expect to drill samples early next week,” she said, adding that underground soil and groundwater samples will be taken from outside the treatment plant and on the premises.
The next steps will depend on the test results, Elgersma said.
The city has two water tanks in the ground, the south tank and the north tank. Elgersma said the north tank – the one with the contamination – had been isolated.
Elgersma said part of examining one of the water tanks included checking for cracks in the cement. She said there were no obvious cracks in the tank on Friday, although there are “some areas of concern” that need further investigation.
That will happen at the beginning of next week, said Elgersma, and the city will call in more experts if necessary.
Elgersma said the city flushed the water pipes this week to remove hydrocarbons from the distribution system and more flushes will follow.
The affected tank will be completely emptied and cleaned by the end of Friday in preparation for a detailed inspection by a team of concrete and storage specialists. Last week the city announced that it had bypassed the affected tank.
Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, said officials wanted to be 100 percent sure the water is safe to drink before lifting the no-consume ordinance. No date has been set to remove the order.
He also said the city is working with Nunavut and the federal government and advisors to ensure the source of the contamination is found. He said officials from the city and government of Nunavut had taken samples.
“Collectively, we check the water in Iqaluit for hydrocarbons every day or two,” he said.
Water purification system options
In an email to CBC News earlier this week, the city said it was looking for “mobile and alternative” water treatment systems as the city-wide emergency continues and temperatures plummet.
City workers and local residents have collected water from the Sylvia Grinnell River, but an alternative solution is needed as the river freezes over, Mayor Bell told CBC News Network on Wednesday.
“It’s getting into a bad situation,” he said.
The Iqaluit city council unanimously voted for an extension of the local state of emergency on Tuesday. Such declarations take seven days before they need to be renewed.
During the interview on Wednesday, Bell said that around 200,000 liters of clean water have been flown in in the past few days, including 54,000 liters that were shipped from Europe by Airbus.
Bringing water to everyone is “taxed”, he said, as many residents are unsafe and may not have a car to collect the water.
My heart is so full of appreciation, a huge thank you to all of you @jindisinghka and @khalsaaidca for the donation of 50 pallets, each with 36 x 4L x 4 bottles of water, which landed in Iqaluit today! ♥ ️ ♥ ️ ♥ ️ pic.twitter.com/0vDGoCsMQU
But the supplies go to those who can’t get water themselves, he said.
“It is a difficult situation, but we are pulling together,” he said on Friday about the community.
“You know, our companies have come together, even external companies and organizations have come to our aid.”
Bell said more engineers would arrive on Wednesday to inspect the city’s water system. He said the two tanks that store the city’s water are massive cement units that sit in the ground under the water treatment plant and can each hold around 100,000 liters of water.
“We’re working hard to fix this and we have the support of the Nunavut and Canadian governments, all of which have been fantastic,” he said. “We’ll get through this soon.”