Iqaluit says boil water advisory likely to last several days

Iqaluit is under a city-wide boil-water advisory, the latest in a series of water issues in the Nunavut capital over the past six months.

City says it will announce when the advisory, which it is now calling 'precautionary', is lifted

Water pours out of a tap in CBC Nunavut's kitchen in Iqaluit on March 1, 2022. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Iqaluit is under a city-wide boil water advisory again, and will likely remain so for several days, according to the municipal government.

The advisory stems from repairs city workers were doing Tuesday to a water valve, which led to a water line losing pressure.

Though precautionary, this is the latest in a series of water issues in the Nunavut capital over the past six months. A previous city-wide advisory in January lasted for more than a week; residents also spent nearly two months in 2021 under a do-not-consume order due to concerns about fuel contamination in the city's water supply.

"The City recommends that all water used for consumption and dental hygiene is brought to a rolling boil for a minimum of one full minute," stated a Tuesday news release from the city.

It added the city will announce when the advisory is lifted.

The news release didn't specify the advisory is "precautionary," but Simon Doiron, director of public works for the city, stressed that it is.

He said there's nothing to suggest there is anything actually wrong with the water, but because their water system experienced depressurization, they have to do testing to be sure.

Valve failure

The repair, announced in a news release on Monday, was scheduled to take place between about 9 a.m. and noon Tuesday and resulted in a water shutdown for the whole city.

The trouble began in a vault, which houses a series of valves and provides an access point to the water main. A ball valve was leaking and needed to be repaired.

In order to do that, the part of the water main that connects to the vault had to be shut off to prevent water from flowing in. However, that valve wasn't able to fully close.

"This happens all the time," Doiron said. "Sometimes the valve fails because of, maybe, sediment buildup on the edge of the valve, so you can't close the valve 100 per cent."

Workers had to go to another vault higher in elevation, near the hospital. There, they were able to stop the water from flowing through to the first vault, and that resulted in part of the water main draining.

After that, water pressure in the line dropped below 20 psi. When that happens, the city is required by the territory's public health body to issue a boil water advisory and test the water, Doiron said.

"What normally occurs when you lose your pressure in your system, you're going to stir everything up and probably have brown water complaints," he said.

Testing for bacteria

Two 100-ml samples taken 24 hours apart, one Tuesday and the other Wednesday, will be sent to a lab in Ottawa to be tested for coliform and E. coli bacteria. Doiron estimated the results will be back by Saturday at the earliest.

"We're expecting that it's going to come back clean. There is no issue in Iqaluit with bacteria," he added.

Given that the section of the water main in question comes before the line branches off, there was no way to prevent the pressure decrease, Doiron said.

The ball valve was eventually fixed and the system is otherwise working normally. The nearby water main valve that couldn't close fully will have to be repaired in the summer, he said.