For the second time in two years, the small city of Iqaluit in arctic Northern Canada has declared a state of emergency over its dwindling water supply.
Historically, the city has depended upon Lake Geraldine nearby to fill its reservoir, with the Apex River as a backup source.
Unfortunately, due to lack of rainfall, increased population, and unreliable infrastructure, these two sources have all but run dry.
“Now, the city will get water from Unnamed Lake to fill the reservoir. It has just gotten approval from the minister of community and government services.
“We need to supplement water, this is the closest source to do that,” said Matthew Hamp, director of engineering and public works for the city.
Unnamed Lake is three kilometers from the pumping station at the Apex River and is a source of water the city has been considering as a long-term solution to its water shortage. But city officials aren’t sure what impact more regular draws would have on the Lake.
“As a one-time use, we don’t expect there to be any long-term impacts [on Unnamed Lake],” said Hamp.
“If the entire amount we take out isn’t recharged in one year, that will give us a good idea of what flows in and out of that Lake is. ”
The most significant liability in the plan’s success is not knowing whether it will rain between now and the winter when all water sources freeze for extended periods. The city will need 700 million liters of water to get them through the winter – which is no small feat.
The Iqaluit community and other First Nations communities’ long-neglected desires to have safe and secure drinking water had reached the courts when they filed two national class-action lawsuits against the Canadian Federal government.
The lawsuit resulted in a nearly $8 billion settlement from the government. According to the CBC article, “City of Iqaluit declares 2nd water emergency in 2 years,” the settlement includes:
- a $1.5 billion compensation to individuals who were deprived of clean drinking water,
- requiring the federal government to lift all long-term water advisories on reserves, and
- $6 billion federal government funds to provide reliable access to safe drinking water on reserves,
- create a First Nations Advisory Committee on Safe Drinking Water,
- support First Nations’ efforts to develop their own drinking water by-laws and initiatives and make Ottawa responsible for private water systems, such as wells.
Michael Rosenberg, the lead lawyer in the two lawsuits the agreement, says that this is a historical one that will provide compensation for the wrongs of the past and address the future to ensure that it does not resemble the past. He added that the agreement aims to put an end to the long-term drinking water advisories in First Nation reserves.
While the government settlement serves as a significant step in solving the First Nation’s water problem, there is still more work to be done.
Iqaluit Deputy Mayor Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster said that Iqaluit faces a long-term water supply problem, and climate change adds pressure.
Lake Geraldine and Apex river are two critical sources of Iqaluit’s water supply. Still, the former is running low, and the latter is not considered a long-term and sustainable water supply source, the CBC reports.
The melting of permafrost due to climate change poses a significant risk to water and sewer infrastructure, “The melting of that permafrost causes more water to be in and around those pipes, running the risk of freezing up and breaking those pipes,” says Brewster.
Addressing the water problem and ensuring that the Iqaluit’s and the entire First Nation communities have safe and secure water supplies for generations to come is not an easy undertaking but requires a lot of work to do.
Samson Cree Nation Councillor Mario Swampy focuses on building’ water sovereignty’ for the First Nation community. “Water sovereignty is having the ability to be self-determining and controlling what that’s going to look like for our nation now and in the future,” he said.
Application of infrastructure asset management principles and practices will also assist First Nation communities in the long-term sustainable management of water resources, water treatment, and water networks to meet community needs.