Iqaluit city council to decide on new source for drinking water

Iqaluit city council met Thursday to learn about options for a new source of drinking water. Council will vote in August. The city will then need to apply for a new water license with the Nunavut Water Board, a process expected to take at least a year.

City council to vote on best option in August

Iqaluit city council met Thursday to learn about the capital's options for a new source of drinking water. Council will vote in August. The city will then need to apply for a new water license with the Nunavut Water Board, a process expected to take at least a year. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

The city of Iqaluit will need to choose a new potable water source by the end of the summer. 

At a meeting Thursday night, council members were presented with two options for what that source might be.

Since about 2015, alarm bells have been sounding that the city's current water reservoir— Lake Geraldine — is too small and unreliable to meet Iqaluit's growing population. 

The new supply will come from either Unnamed Lake or the Sylvia Grinnell River. 

But Iqaluit's chief administrative officer, Amy Elgersma, said staff recommend Unnamed Lake.

"We do have experience of course working with Unnamed Lake now, in the 2019 year where we did draw water from that water source," said Elgersma. 

The city declared a second water emergency in 2019, when the Apex River was too low to restock Lake Geraldine. The city supplemented the water supply by pumping water from Unnamed Lake, about three kilometres from the Apex river, into Lake Geraldine. 

"It is a feasible option to be able to run a pipeline with minimal power requirements and infrastructure compared to some of the other options," said Elgersma. 

Unnamed Lake summer pumping 

If the city council does vote to use Unnamed Lake as the water source they will also need to choose the system to collect the water. 

The recommendation by city staff is a summer-only pumping operation. That would mean the city would only collect water in the summer and store it in a reservoir. 

The summer-only pumping option would require the city to build a new reservoir because Lake Geraldine doesn't have the storage capacity to sustain the growing population. 

"If we don't have that, we can deliver all the water we want in the summer but without the reservoir we are running out of water by May," said Walter Orr, a civil engineer with Stantec, who made the presentation to council. 

"The summer only projects require a reservoir in the near term." 

The viability of Unnamed Lake is still being studied. Data has been collected since 2018 but more outflow measurements are needed to confirm the water balance, according to the presentation. 

Unnamed Lake is one option the city is considering as a new water source. If council chooses this option, they would also have to decide on a system for collecting the water. Summer only pumping is one suggestion. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Unnamed Lake can support a population of 17,000 people. Iqaluit would reach that population as soon as 2040, according to the city's high-growth population modelling. 

"I want a long-term water supply and what you are proposing is going to see kids who are alive today running out of water before they are out of high school," said Coun. Kyle Sheppard. 

Elgersma said the city is proposing additional studies be done to ensure this is a long term water supply strategy. 

Unnamed Lake year-round pumping

Another extraction method from Unnamed Lake is to take water all year. 

This would mean filling Lake Geraldine to capacity and replenishing what is used daily from Unnamed Lake. 

It would be done by having insulated and recirculating water lines running from Unnamed Lake to Lake Geraldine. 

Nunavut communities of Rankin Inlet, Gjoa Haven, Cambridge Bay and Canadian Forces Station Alert all use this type of system. 

Lake Geraldine stores about three months worth of water in case of pipe breaking or freezing. 

Orr said in the presentation that recirculating systems rarely freeze and the communities on these systems usually only have one day supply of water if something were to happen. 

Unnamed Lake is about 100 metres uphill from Lake Geraldine and would require little energy to transport the water. 

"The water flowing in [the piping] would have enough energy in it as it flows that it would drive a small hydro plant," said Orr. 

Sylvia Grinnell River

The other option for a water source is the Sylvia Grinnell River, but it would take a lot of money and energy for it to operate. 

The water from the river would need to be pumped about seven kilometres uphill for it to be transported to the reservoir. 

"What Sylvia Grinnell takes in terms of pumping effort is about 700 horsepower, running continuously for four months," said Orr. 

A blue river shimmers between gravel banks.
The Sylvia Grinnell River is the second option to become the city's new source of drinking water. The river would take a lot of money and energy to operate, however, because water needs to be pumped 7 kilometres uphill and transported to the reservoir. (Jane George/CBC)

The water capacity of the Sylvia Grinnell would be sustainable to meet the city's needs for the foreseeable future. 

But pumping from this river would also only happen in the summer to protect fish habitat. This would also require the city to build another reservoir. 

In meetings this past month, and in 2018, the Amaruq Hunters and Trappers Association (HTA) said the Sylvia Grinnell as a water source is off limits because of its importance for Arctic Char fishing. 

"The HTA is strongly against the Sylvia Grinnell option and they made that quite clear," said Elgersma. 

City council will vote on an option in August. Once a water source is decided the city will need to apply for a new water license with the Nunavut Water Board. 

This process will take at least a year.


Jackie McKay


Jackie McKay is a Métis journalist working for CBC in Nunavut. She has worked as a reporter in Thunder Bay, Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Iqaluit. Jackie also worked on CBC Radio One shows including The Current, Metro Morning, after graduating from Ryerson University in 2017. Follow her on Twitter @mckayjacqueline.