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Race against time: Engineers use Apex River to refill Iqaluit's water supply before freeze up

The plan is to pump eight million litres of water a day — the equivalent of about three Olympic-sized swimming pools — for the next 60 days.

If all goes to plan, the city will have moved 400 million litres of water before winter sets in

Alain Boisvert fires up a machine to clear a place where the generator will pump water. Iqaluit's public water supply will start getting a refill in the next few days as the city begins to pump water from the Apex River into the Lake Geraldine reservoir. (Angela Hill/CBC)

Iqaluit's public water supply will start getting a refill in the next few days as the city begins to pump water from the Apex River into the Lake Geraldine reservoir.

There is construction work underway at the end of the Road to Nowhere alongside the Apex River, near the Iqaluit shooting range.

"The pumps are getting placed in the deeper part of the Apex," said Matthew Follett, a civil engineer with Stantec's Iqaluit office, pointing out over the river.

Stantec engineering designed the plans for pumping water from the Apex River to Lake Geraldine, the city's reservoir, which has lower water levels than in years past. 

8 million litres a day

Matthew Hamp, director of public works and engineering for the City of Iqaluit, left, speaks with civil engineer Matthew Follett at the pumping site. (Angela Hill/CBC)

Construction crews are creating a flat space to rest the generators and fuel, and rolling out the hoses. The are 10 separate runs that will move water. Each run is made up of multiple 50-or 100-foot hoses that will cover a kilometre of distance.

The plan is to pump eight million litres of water a day — the equivalent of about three Olympic-sized swimming pools — for the next 60 days.

"It is a bit of a race [against time], hence the urgency and rapid mobilization," said Matthew Hamp, director of public works and engineering for the City of Iqaluit.

"Once things start freezing up we can no longer pump, so we are trying to push as much water in that time frame."

Access to the Road to Nowhere is restricted and the shooting range is closed for the foreseeable future. Once the pumping begins, there will be 24-hour security at the site.

If everything goes according to plan, the city will have moved 400 million litres of water by the time the river begins to freeze.

"That would be topped up to the spillway in the reservoir," said Hamp, which is as full as it can get.

If the plan doesn't work ...

A specialized vehicle brings hose and staff to the edge of the Apex River. It has less environmental impact than other machines. (Angela Hill/CBC)

If things don't go according to plan, the city has contingencies in place, including extra hoses in case they need to be swapped.

There is also a reverse osmosis system — which creates fresh water by removing salt from ocean water — on standby that could be loaned from the Government of Nunavut. However, it is an energy intensive process.

Refilling Lake Geraldine is only one part of the city's water plan. The city is also repairing leaks and reducing water loss through bleeds, the constant running of water to prevent pipes from freezing.

Residents are still asked to conserve water by taking showers instead of baths and refrain from washing cars.

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