A changing climate may someday shrink water supplies in Arctic communities, said a researcher at a climate symposium in Iqaluit.
Less snow in the winter and less rain in the summer, combined with warmer temperatures and higher winds that increase evaporation rates, raise concerns about the future of water supplies in the already semi-arid Arctic, said Paul Budkewitsch of Natural Resources Canada.
"And [it] at least raises the question, 'Well, are we going to have enough water?' The answer is probably yes," Budkewitsch said Wednesday, on the last day of a symposium in the Nunavut capital on adapting to climate change.
"But the question is, how long is that answer going to be yes? Is it many, many years into the future, or is it a few years into the future?"
Budkewitsch, a researcher with the federal department's Canada Centre for Remote Sensing, has studied water reservoirs in Iqaluit and Clyde River, and hopes to expand his research to other Nunavut communities like Grise Fiord.
"Some of the communities are small and have very large reservoirs nearby, so they really don't need to worry. Others are taking water from rivers, so that's a fairly constant or reliable source," he said.
"Other communities are getting it from glacial melt water, and some of those things are drying up, actually. Grise Fiord certainly has a problem with that."
Earlier this year, residents in Grise Fiord dealt with a severe water shortage by chipping ice off a nearby iceberg. The high Arctic hamlet's water tanks, which normally hold enough water to last residents a year, did not have enough water, partly due to a lack of rain last summer.
Concerns about drinking water in Nunavut communities came up during this week's climate change symposium, which was organized by the City of Iqaluit and the Canadian Institute of Planners.
Speaking in Inuktitut, Iqaluit elder Simon Nattaq told delegates he's noticed some creeks and streams have run dry.
Budkewitsch said residents can prepare for dry years by building structures that can hold water for a couple of years at a time, as well as erecting snow fences to ensure the snow that does fall does not drift away.
Budkewitsch said people in each community could also be trained to measure water levels at local reservoirs to give them an idea of what's happening to their drinking water supplies over time.