Canadian Forces to be deployed to help tackle Iqaluit's water crisis

The Canadian Armed Forces will be stepping in to help with the water crisis in Iqaluit. "We will always be there to help Canadians deal with an emergency," Public Safety Minister Bill Blair tweeted on Friday

Officials in Iqaluit provide update on what's being done to fix the city's water system

More donations of bottled water started to land in Iqaluit on Friday. (Kenny Bell/Twitter)

The Canadian Armed Forces will be stepping in to help with the water crisis in Iqaluit.

The city has been in a state of emergency since Oct. 12, when staff confirmed evidence of fuel contamination in the city's treated water supply. Residents have been told the water is unsafe to drink even if it's filtered and boiled.

On Friday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the federal government has approved a request for help from Nunavut.

"We will always be there to help Canadians deal with an emergency," Blair tweeted. "We have approved a request ... for [Canadian Forces] support to provide the people of Iqaluit with access to safe drinking water."

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan also tweeted that the military will be "on the ground in Iqaluit to help produce drinking water for the people of Iqaluit."

Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell said Friday evening that an application was submitted last week to the government of Canada to fix the city's long-term water supply, which he said was "in the ballpark of $180 million."

"That didn't include the treatment centre yet, so you know there's a big need," he told a news conference. "[We're] definitely gonna need the government of Canada's help to get this fixed up for our complete water crisis, which has been going on for six years now."

Possible soil or ground water contamination 

Amy Elgersma, Iqaluit's chief administrative officer, said an investigation has pointed to "potential contamination of the soil or groundwater" outside the water treatment plant. She said this "may have leached" into one of the city's two water tanks at its water treatment plant.

She said Phase 2 of an environmental site assessment — the subsurface investigation — has begun.

"We are expecting to drill samples early next week," she said, adding subsurface soil and groundwater samples will be taken from outside the treatment plant, and on the site.

The next steps will depend on test results, Elgersma said.

The city has two water tanks in the ground, called the south tank and the north tank. Elgersma said the north tank — the one with the contamination — had been isolated. 

Elgersma said part of the investigation of the one water tank involved checking for cracks in the cement. She said as of Friday, there are no obvious cracks in the tank, though there are "some areas of concern" that will need to be investigated further. 

That'll happen early next week, Elgersma said, and the city will bring in more experts as needed.

Elgersma said the city was flushing the water lines this week to remove hydrocarbons from the distribution system, and there will be more flushing to come.

By the end of Friday, the affected tank will have been completely drained and cleaned in preparation for detailed inspection by a team of concrete and reservoir specialists. Last week, the city said it had bypassed the affected tank.

Mayor Kenny bell says he's grateful for the donations of bottled water that landed in Iqaluit on Friday. (Kenny Bell/Twitter)

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer, said officials want to be 100 per cent certain that the water is safe to drink before lifting the do-not-consume order. No date for removing the order has been set.

He also said the city is working with the Nunavut and federal government and consultants to ensure that the source of the contamination is found. He said staff with the city and the Nunavut government have been taking samples.

"Combined, we're sampling the water in Iqaluit for hydrocarbons every one to two days," he said.

Water treatment system options

In an email to CBC News earlier this week, the city said it was looking into "mobile and alternative" water treatment system options as the city-wide emergency continues and temperatures dip. 

City workers and residents have been collecting water from Sylvia Grinnell River, but an alternative solution is needed as the river starts to freeze over, Mayor Bell told CBC News Network on Wednesday. 

"It's getting into a dire situation," he said.

Iqaluit city council voted unanimously to extend the local state of emergency on Tuesday. Such declarations last seven days before they need to be extended.

During the interview on Wednesday, Bell said about 200,000 litres of clean water had been flown in over the past few days, including 54,000 litres delivered by airbus from Europe.

City firefighters flush contaminated water out of a hydrant in Iqaluit. (Jane George/CBC)

It has been "taxing" trying to get water to everyone, he said, as many residents are food insecure and may also not have a car to go pick up the water.

But deliveries are going out to those who can't get water themselves, he said.

"It's a rough situation to be in, but we're pulling together well," he said of the community on Friday.

"You know, our businesses have come together, even outside businesses and organizations have come to our aid."

Bell said more engineers were set to arrive on Wednesday to inspect the city's water system. He said the two tanks where the city's water is stored are massive cement units that sit in the ground below the water treatment facility, each able to hold about 100,000 litres of water.

"We're working hard at trying to fix this and we have the support of the government of Nunavut and the government of Canada, who have all been fantastic," he said. "We'll get through this soon."

Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell told CBC on Wednesday that the city would need an alternative water source option as the river is freezing up. (CBC)

Written by Amy Tucker