Iqaluit has been going over its daily water use target by about 300,000 litres

As the snow starts to melt, the city of Iqaluit will need to refill the reservoir to ensure it has enough potable drinking water. This year is the first year the city's water licence will allow it to start pumping as early as May.

Leaks and more time at home due to COVID-19 cause high daily water usage in city

Pipes in August 2019 pump water from Unnamed Lake to Iqaluit's water reservoir. Because of leaks and COVID-19, Iqaluit has been going over its water use target by about 300,000 litres a day since January. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Since January, the city of Iqaluit has been going over its water use target by about 300,000 litres a day.

At a city council meeting Tuesday, chief administrative officer Amy Elgersma said the increase has to do with water leaks and bleeds as well as people staying home in March and April due to COVID-19. 

"We generally notice increased water usage when people are home from work and school as there is often an increase in activities such as cleaning, cooking, washing dishes, laundry, etc.," said Elgersma in an email to CBC News. 

For the last two summers the city of Iqaluit has declared a water emergency. The city has daily water targets to ensure there is enough drinking water until it can replenish Lake Geraldine — the city's potable water reservoir. 

The city's daily target is 2.8 million litres a day — about the equivalent of filling up the aquatic centre pools 3.5 times. 

In 2020, the city used about 3.1 million litres of water a day — around the amount it would take to fill the aquatic centre pools four times.

The city had seven "priority" water leaks in 2020. It says three have been repaired and the other four should be fixed by the end of July. Leaks are the biggest threat to the city's water shortage. 

Lake Geraldine is the reservoir for the city’s potable water. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

Nunavut declared a public health emergency over concerns about COVID-19 on March 18 and closed all bars and restaurants, other than ones doing takeout. 

Despite bars and restaurants being closed, the city says people are still using a lot of water. The city says they have water targets for homes, but not for commercial and industrial use. 

Summer pumping season 

Every winter the city uses up to 78 per cent of the available water that is not frozen in ice in Lake Geraldine. From November to June, that's about 1.1 billion litres. 

Last year, the city made an amendment to its water licence in order to pump water from the Apex River into Lake Geraldine every year until 2026, when the city's water licence expires. 

In August 2019, the Apex River was completely dry in certain sections, forcing the city to use water from Unnamed Lake. This river is meant to be used to supplement the city's drinking supply until 2026. (Travis Burke/CBC)

This is the first year Iqaluit has had this licence in order to start pumping as early as May, or whenever the ice melts. In the 2020 capital spending plan, the city allocated $1 million for Apex River pumping. 

This year, the city plans to start pumping in May and June. It will then monitor the levels throughout the summer before topping up the reservoir in September and October ahead of the winter freeze-up. 

The city has a tender out for the water pumping contract that closes Thursday. The company awarded the contract will be responsible for on site activities and monitoring the pumping system. 

Before the pumps can turn on, the city must submit a water balance assessment to the Nunavut Water Board as part of the licensing agreement. This report will go over things like how much water it's expected to need to pump, and snow and ice melt into the reservoir. 

The city does not expect to need to take water from Unnamed Lake this year. Last summer the city was forced to declare a water emergency because there was not enough water in the Apex River to replenish Lake Geraldine. 

The city would need to declare another water emergency to take water from Unnamed Lake, because the city's water licence only allows it to extract water from the Apex River. 

Unnamed Lake is one option the city is considering for a long-term solution to its water shortage, but it doesn't know if the lake will replenish itself. The city said last year it will conduct a study on the replenishment of the lake. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

"Only in a very emergency situation would we need to access the Unnamed Lake again," said Elgersma. "By pumping in the spring session we anticipate there will be enough water to fill the reservoir." 

If needed, the city would look at extending the length of the pumping season before taking water from Unnamed Lake. 

The city is still looking into a long-term solution to its water shortage. A feasibility study of possible options is expected to be finished this fall. 

These options include the Sylvia Grinnell River and Unnamed Lake. During last year's pumping season the city was looking at how Unnamed Lake's water supply replenishes every 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.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?