Water shortage prompts Iqaluit to declare state of emergency

After declaring a state of emergency due to historically low water levels, the city of Iqaluit will begin pumping water out of a nearby lake into its reservoir. 

The city will begin pumping from a nearby lake to refill its main reservoir ahead of freeze-up

Stantec engineers rigged up these pipes in mid-August to pump water from Unnamed Lake to Iqaluit's water reservoir in Lake Geraldine. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

The city of Iqaluit is declaring a state of emergency due to historically low water levels caused by a lack of rain this summer.

This moves the municipality one step closer to begin pumping water from a nearby lake, referred to as Unnamed Lake or Qikiqtalik Lake, to fill the water reservoir in Lake Geraldine ahead of freeze-up. The city still needs approval from the Nunavut Water Board before pumping can begin. 

Amy Elgersma, the city's chief administrative officer and emergency management co-ordinator, told city council Friday the reservoir needs to make up around 413,000 cubic metres to have enough water for the winter. 

That's more than double its current amount. 

Lake Geraldine, which supplies the City of Iqaluit, sits above the city near the power plant. (David Gunn/CBC)

Deputy Mayor Solomon Awa asked if additional pumping would be required to make up for the water deficit. He also told council that the body of water they referred to as Unnamed Lake is actually known as Qikiqtalik in Inuktitut.

Elgersma thanked Awa for providing the lake's proper name, and said it does have the proper volume to fill the reservoir, a fact which studies have confirmed. 

Coun. Kyle Sheppard asked if the city would require any more infrastructure to pump the required volume of water. The city can only pump for another two months, meaning it will need to move twice as much water as it has been so far this summer.

Elgersma said the city has all the necessary infrastructure and consultants have determined it can make up for the low levels within 40 days, or fewer if there's significant rainfall.

Pipes have already been installed at Qikiqtalik Lake. These would deliver water into the Apex River, which would then be pumped, as it already is, into the reservoir. This is the same as what was done in 2019.

The city expects to pump over 500 million litres of water.

The move will not affect the quality of drinking water the city is able to provide.

Council unanimously voted to declare a state of emergency, which allows pumping from another body of water to occur. Elgersma said the latest they'd start pumping would be Sept. 1. 

The city has been warning residents to conserve water since May, but the water shortage has been affecting Iqaluit since 2018.

In April, the federal government announced $214 million in funding to upgrade the city's water distribution system

"I feel like some of my grey hair might be turning back to brown," said Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell at the time. 

The money will fund a new reservoir to be built adjacent to Lake Geraldine. 

Coun. Sheppard  said the situation highlights how important it is to inform the public about the emergency. He said people have grown used to the same messaging and don't recognize the severity.

"We need new messaging on water conversation in out community," he said. 

"We do need to conserve water… and really stress to our residents how important this is." 


Luke Carroll


Luke Carroll is a journalist with CBC News in Yellowknife who has previously worked in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario. Luke is originally from Brockville, Ont., and moved to Yellowknife in May 2020. He can be reached at