The good news for Iqalummiut is that officials in Nunavut’s capital city do not expect an on-going drinking-water shortage to reach emergency levels ahead of the summer melt. The bad news is that high demand for water that is placing a strain on the water supply mean that the city will continue to want them to conserve water until the reservoir can be replenished.
The real good news, though, is that it could have been much worse. A recommendation to conserve water — by doing things like adjusting toilets to use less water when they flush — for about a month will be something of a walk in the park for Iqalummiut: for nearly two full months at the end of last year, they were told not to use municipal water at all after it was found to have been contaminated with diesel. Even so, the warning serves as a reminder of a situation that the federal government reckons is serious enough that it warrants a direct (if virtual) message from the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to the Iqaluit city council that it will spend C$214 million (€156 million) in disaster-recovery funding to sort things out.
Some of the money has already gone towards repairing leaky pipes that have been partly to blame for a surge in water use that has seen demand return to where it was in 2018, when the city was forced to declare the first of two recent water emergencies.
The leaks, combined with the excess water used by people and businesses to flush their pipes after the diesel contamination, as well as a dump fire on 4 April that took 10 hours to extinguish and has required additional water prevent it from reigniting, have left the level of the Lake Geraldine reservoir lower than the city would like it to be at this time of year. But, because those activities are being wound down, demand can be expected to return to normal before the level in the reservoir fell to a critical level. Once the summer freshet begins, water levels will begin rising again.
City officials will be keeping a close eye on how far they will get, and how long they stay above a level of concern. The latest warning comes despite the level in the reservoir having returned to near normal after the second water emergency, in 2019, prompted a conservation programme that has helped to reduce water use by more than a quarter. At the same time, efforts by the city to redirect water from the Apex River into Lake Geraldine had helped to bring it back up to capacity.
As successful as the two measures have been, they were only intended as temporary solutions for a situation a problem that, by 2050, will see the city’s water needs rise to double Lake Geraldine’s capacity. The city’s long-term solution calls for using the federal funds to build an entirely new reservoir (the light blue area in the picture below) near Lake Geraldine that would be contained by a low dam (the mustard-coloured stripes) and which can be filled by two sources. Work on the C$64 million project could begin next year and would take an estimated three years to finish. In the meantime, Iqalummiut will continue to need to be mindful of their water use. That may turn out to be the best news of all.
Kevin McGwin, PolarJournal
Featured image: Anick Marie
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