While Iqaluit’s low water supply has garnered a great deal of attention, researchers are trying to determine long-term water sources for Hall Beach and Iglulik.

Trent University student Andrew Williams samples the Hall Beach water supply. The gate in the background is supposed to allow for water to flow into the reservoir to refill it, but the backup source is extremely shallow, researchers say.
Michael Bakaic photo

Each of those communities is served by a small reservoir that is supplemented by another water body. In Hall Beach, water is pumped in from a shallow old military reservoir. In Iglulik, Small Lake is the alternate source. Finding secure water supplies for the future is the goal, and it appears challenging, said Andrew Medeiros, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, who is co-lead in the research project with a colleague from the University of Ottawa.

There are numerous lakes near Hall Beach but they are shallow and have cloudy “turbid” water, Medeiros noted. The best alternative may be Fisherman’s Lake, but it’s 45 minutes outside the community, he said.

As it stands, Hall Beach may be vulnerable to a water shortage, similar to the one Iglulik suffered three years ago, according to Medeiros.

“We have heard reports from individuals in (Hall Beach) that the old reservoir leaks, which could become a severe problem if there is an extreme weather year in Hall Beach,” he said, adding that inadequate infrastructure in the community could further complicate efforts to replenish the fresh water supply.

Medeiros said the issue is on the minds of many residents, about 50 of whom turned out for a community meeting on the subject a few months ago.

“Almost everyone we spoke with were extremely concerned over their freshwater supply,” said Medeiros, who has been studying freshwater systems in Nunavut since 2005. “I realized early on that basic science, especially in the Arctic, needs to be grounded in communities.”

Hall Beach Mayor Jaypeetee Audlakiak said he has no immediate concerns about the water supply, but he welcomed the research because “climate change has changed things a bit, so it’s hard to say way ahead how it’s going to affect us.”

‘Incredible disaster’

Iglulik suffered a crisis in 2015 when a prolonged winter kept the community water reservoir frozen, a situation Medeiros referred to as “an incredible disaster.” Beyond the frigid weather, the emergency occurred because the GN didn’t know the volume of water in the reservoir and had no plan to respond to the ensuing water shortage, he said. Iglulik has since undergone a major upgrade to the reservoir and the water treatment facility. However, the water plant’s filters have already clogged, which led to a boil-water advisory, and that was only about a year after the upgrade, Medeiros noted.

Iglulik Mayor Celestino Uyarak acknowledged that the lakes on Iglulik island are shallow, so the research can help identify needed options.

“At least we’ll know where we’re at or where we’re heading in the near future,” said Uyarak. “Like I said, we’re a growing community.”

In addition to mapping water sources for Hall Beach and Iglulik, the researchers are looking at projected population and demand growth as well as climate models.

Although the Hall Beach and Iglulik studies will continue into 2019, the researchers have an eye on Coral Harbour and Whale Cove as future destinations to investigate – dependent on funding – due to low water supplies and numerous boil-water advisories in those communities.

The Nunavut government has hired one individual to oversee a territorial freshwater strategy, Medeiros pointed out. By comparison, the NWT and Yukon have established comprehensive and inclusive freshwater programs.

“I wish that Nunavut was advancing on a freshwater strategy with more effort and proactiveness than they currently are,” said Medeiros, who warned of Iqaluit’s impending water woes three years ago. “While I am happy that the City of Iqaluit and the GN is starting to take water sustainability and planning seriously, it is difficult for me to suggest that I would be ‘relieved’ by the attention, because if it was given serious thought back in 2015 we would not be in a water emergency in Iqaluit and we would have had better planning for this year’s water shortage.”

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