On Wednesday morning, the Island Today newspaper reported that “more than 2,000 residents” were advised to avoid drinking tap water in Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut. The problem was discovered at Iqaluit’s municipal water treatment plant on Pouraweag Street — not far from the city’s waterfront — at around 11 a.m. the previous day.
As many as 15 workers and volunteers tried to repair the leak, the pipeline that feeds the plant. According to the report, the leak had damaged the piping.
The contaminant, diesel fuel, eventually dissipated — but by the time the plant was operational, the mayor was already required to advise people to avoid drinking the water.
“They don’t know whether the water is safe to drink yet,” Maria Cannova said. “They won’t know if it’s safe for at least an hour because they have to get the water line back up and running.”
An emergency roadside public meeting was held at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. Ottawa-based satellite TV network PBN reported that the mayor added that the procedure used to pump water into the leaky line “used very heavy equipment and a limited amount of water from nearby wells.”
“It is critical that water levels in the arapaho watershed be maintained throughout the winter,” Tommy Pease, senior co-ordinator of the Environment Department in Iqaluit, said in a statement. “It is possible that it could be prolonged with significant impacts to some residents.”
City Council declared a state of emergency the following day. “If some residents wish to use their homes for overnight heating, we suggest that they do so inside or in an enclosed unit with only partial use of the hot water for hand washing or bathing,” said the city’s council, according to the Island Today. “If some residents must bathe and shower indoors, they should only do so in compliance with provincial regulations.”
According to the Canadian Press, the spill has caused a boil-water notice for a swath of residents who live near the city’s downtown. Mayor Damond Juurlink also announced last week that residents of Sandy Bay, Mayeland and Bailey Creek should not drink the water “until further notice,” and warned that they should take other precautions, like cooking with boiled water or a household sponge.
Juurlink’s office has reportedly hired independent experts to help determine the cause of the leak, and it has also confirmed that the relevant agency responsible for Clean Water and Waste at the local water authority was not in the building Wednesday morning, according to the report. However, the city said that the leak has been contained and that there is “no immediate risk to anyone’s health or to the environment.”
Just last month, hundreds of Iqaluit residents were also warned not to drink the municipal tap water as the wastewater treatment plant “might have been affected,” according to municipal officials. That solution was rushed in by the end of the month, but a councillor with Iqaluit Regional Municipality was quoted in The Wall Street Journal that some residents were now actually taking baths, as the government shut down the water utility.
Just this summer, the Canadian Press reported that water in Iqaluit’s drinking water infrastructure is “just under 100 years old,” and that the city will soon run out of time to fix it. The staff at the sewage treatment plant is “also aging, and right now there’s a high level of demand and low staff,” a municipal official told the outlet at the time.
(Featured image credit: Anthony Cardinale/Getty Images)