North

Iqaluit is repairing and upgrading its water system but you still can't drink from it

Work continues to repair and upgrade Iqaluit’s water treatment plant so the do-not-consume order currently in place for the city can be lifted. The water engineering firm hired by the city provided an update to city council Monday.

Water engineering firm provided update to city council

Work on the City of Iqaluit water treatment plant continues in Iqaluit. Officials outlined steps they've taken to rid the system of the contaminants found within it and ensure it doesn't happen again. (Dustin Patar/The Canadian Press)

Work continues to repair and upgrade Iqaluit's water treatment plant but the do-not-consume order remains in place for now.

Earlier Monday, the government of Nunavut issued a reminder to Iqaluit residents not to use their tap water for drinking or cooking, following the discovery of fuel in the city's water system in October.

The majority of the contamination was in the north tank, one of two tanks in the water plant.

The City of Iqaluit hired WSP Canada, a water engineering firm, to manage and remove the fuel contamination.

In a presentation to Iqaluit city council Monday evening about the state of the city's water quality, officials with WSP Canada explained what steps have been taken since the discovery of the contamination.

They added the territory's chief public health officer set criteria to lift the order.

The criteria include confirmation of the water quality by sampling, contingency planning, a monitoring and reporting plan, third-party review of the reporting provided to date, and a remediation plan.

Steps taken

Ian Moran, a water treatment process design engineer with WSP, said officials were able to bypass the north tank on Oct. 13, the day after the contamination was found.

Two days later, the water was removed from the tank. It's been cleaned and inspected but, Moran said, it will remain out of operation until deemed safe for use, although he didn't specify who would make that call, nor when.

The city has also ran a city-wide flushing program to remove fuel from the water system from Oct. 14-20, and vacuumed out the remaining fuel in the other water tank.

Then, on Oct. 24, officials found that the source of hydrocarbons seeping into the city's water system was an underground fuel storage tank that was installed in 1962 as part of the original water treatment plant.

"There was no other identified source of contamination," said Moran.

The military has set up a reverse osmosis water treatment plant to provide clean drinking water from the Sylvia Grinnell river. (David Gunn/CBC)

On the same day, officials also found how the fuel entered the water system, added Moran.

The point of entry, he said, "is suspected to be the raw water holding tank, where water is stored prior to treatment."

He said personnel were able to isolate and bypass that point of entry the same day they found it.

Also on that day, Moran added, the city installed an online monitoring system at the water treatment plant and at different locations within the water distribution system across the city, so it could detect hydrocarbons.

Moran explained the monitoring system detects hydrocarbons when it reaches 25 micrograms per litre of water, which is well below the drinking water screening value of 390 micrograms per litre.

He said that since the monitors were installed, hydrocarbons have been near or below detection level of 25 micrograms of diesel or kerosene per litre of water, and that those results have been confirmed by another lab.

Remediation underway

Moran said the city started an environmental site assessment where the contamination happened and remediation work at the site is underway.

He added the city is working with his firm to develop an emergency response plan to identify critical infrastructure and potential risks, and also to develop response measures in the event of a future emergency.

Officials with WSP Canada and the city did not provide an estimate of when they hope the do-not-consume order will be lifted.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated that the monitoring system put in place in the Iqaluit water system detects hydrocarbons when they reach 25 milligrams per litre of water. In fact, it detects hydrocarbons when they reach 25 micrograms per litre of water.
    Nov 16, 2021 2:26 PM CT

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