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Iqaluit faces water emergency second year running

Lack of precipitation this year means Iqaluit's potable water source, Lake Geraldine, and its back-up source, the Apex River, sit at their lowest recorded levels – making the city's water situation worse than last year's emergency.

The city hosted reporters at both sites Aug. 2, with director of public works and engineering Matthew Hamp and Stantec civil engineer Matthew Follett explaining the situation.

Matthew Follett, left, a civil engineer with Stantec, and the City of Iqaluit's director of public works and engineering Matthew Hamp stand at the point at the Apex River from where the city will pump 700,000 cubic metres of water to Lake Geraldine, which it hopes to pump into the river from what the city calls Unnamed Lake because the river is at an all-time low.
Michele LeTourneau/NNSL

"The size of the city plays a role, but there's definitely an environmental effect here that is not typical," said Follett.

Last year, facing a winter water shortage, the city estimated it needed to pump 400,000 cubic meters of water from the Apex River to Lake Geraldine, though only 200,000 was pumped in due to rain late in the summer.

This year, if the area sees no rain at all, 700,000 cubic meters of water is needed to replenish Lake Geraldine, while the city currently is permitted to pump 500,000.

"We have an emergency amendment application in right now that's being considered by the (Nunavut) Water Board to pump the additional amount," said Hamp.

Standing next to the Apex River, director of public works and engineering for the City of Iqaluit Matthew Hamp points in the direction of Unnamed Lake, the source of water the city hopes to use to deal with the all-time lows plaguing its potable-water reservoir Lake Geraldine, and now the Apex River.
Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

To complicate matters, the water must now come from elsewhere – a body of water the city calls Unnamed Lake.

Minister of Community and Government Services Lorne Kusugak declared a state of emergency in a letter to the water board, requesting that the use of Unnamed Lake be exempt from the Nunavut Planning Commission and Nunavut Impact Review Board processes.

"I am of the opinion that the current water shortage in Lake Geraldine, combined with historic low water levels in the Apex River constitutes an emergency," Kusugak stated.

"Access to clean water is critical for human health, and it is in the interest of ensuring the health and safety of Iqalummiut that the project be carried out without delay."

Lake Geraldine, the City of Iqaluit's potable water reservoir, is at an all-time low and requires 700,000 cubic metres of water pumped in to ensure residents have water to last through the winter.
Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

The plan is to pump water from the lake to the river, then on to the reservoir.

"The conservation efforts last year, that and the pipe repairs we did, resulted in about a 30 per cent drop in usage. This year, it's a little less than that. I think we're about at 7 or 8 per cent less than typical," said Hamp.

"There's still some issues we need to deal with the pipe distribution network. We've got a couple of big civil projects in the works that should be starting later this month. We're hoping that helps reduce some of our losses."

Hamp says residents are asked to continue to pitch in to help conserve water.

The pumping infrastructure is currently being organized, with the intent of completing pumping before freeze-up in October.

In the medium term, the city is permitted to pump from the Apex River until 2026. For the long term, the city is looking at two options as water sources – Unnamed Lake and the Sylvia Grinnell River.

"Coupled with that, though, we do have to expand our holding capacity so that part of that is looking into can we add capacity to Lake Geraldine and then, in the longer term, do we create another reservoir somewhere else," said Hamp.

The City of Iqaluit is installing semi-permanent pipes between the Apex River and Lake Geraldine this year to increase efficiency until a permanent long-term solution is implemented to deal with its chronic water shortages.
Michele LeTourneau/NNSL

For now, a semi-permanent pipeline is being installed from the Apex River to Lake Geraldine for increased efficiency.

The city hopes to begin pumping by Aug. 15.


A timeline of City of Iqaluit water issues: 

The City has been aware of the need for additional water due to the projected and continued growth and development of the community since 2005.

In 2006, the City increased the height of the Lake Geraldine dam to accommodate more water in the reservoir.

In 2013 and 2014, supplemental water supply reviews were identified and reported back to city council.

In 2017, the development and initiation of a Water Demand Management Strategy to deal with and develop water loss control and water conservation strategies for the city.

In 2018, council approved more than $1 million for supplemental water infrastructure and a secondary water survey, which includes a study to evaluate the option of a possible water supply at the Sylvia Grinnell river to supplement the reservoir. This project is underway and is being expedited to address a long-term, sustainable water supply solution.

source: City of Iqaluit

Read the City of Iqaluit's information handout: Water Fact Sheet and Questions and Answers