Iqaluit to get reverse osmosis system as backup for water emergency

Iqaluit is prepared to spend $566,000 on an emergency backup plan, but there's a risk it may never be used, says a city director.

The system, donated by the Nunavut government, will be used in case of an emergency

Iqaluit is getting a reverse osmosis system to use in case of a water emergency. This system's extra equipment will cost the city about $566,000. (Angela Hill/CBC)

Iqaluit is getting a reverse osmosis system to use in case of a water emergency.

The system — which turns ocean water to drinking water — has been donated by the Nunavut government, who used it in Arviat in 2011. The territorial government later decided smaller models of the system would work better for communities.

"Having the [reverse osmosis] unit here now would provide for a readily actionable contingency plan in the event of a winter water emergency," said Matthew Hamp, the city's director of public works and engineering during a presentation to council Tuesday night.

Council voted to authorize the city to buy necessary additional equipment to run the system, including a shelter, pump, holding tanks and pipes. The city has to sea lift the entire system to Iqaluit from Alberta.

The price tag for the equipment and shipping is $566,000. City council previously approved spending $280,000 to retrofit the system. A new system could have cost the city millions of dollars.

The system should hold the city over until the implementation of a long-term solution for Iqaluit's growing population which currently uses water from the Lake Geraldine reservoir.

Hamp said a long-term solution would not be in place before June or July 2020, at best.

High cost for equipment 'that may never be used'

Reverse Osmosis is not a sustainable long-term plan for Iqaluit because desalination — or taking salt out of seawater, in this case — is an energy intensive process.

"Given our fossil fuel or diesel dependency, it's a very expensive thing to operate," said Madeleine Redfern, Iqaluit's mayor.

According to city administration, bringing the system up now will save money. If it didn't and there was an emergency, the city would have to fly in four shipping containers worth of equipment by cargo plane.

If something were to happen that was unforeseen and we had not purchased this, we'd be putting our citizens in a place of risk that I am not ready to accept.- Romeyn Stevenson, Iqaluit's deputy mayor

"The disadvantage of all this is there is a high upfront cost for a system that may never be used," Hamp said. "Best case, we never have to use this, but at least we know it's here."

Council discussed concerns about the cost of having this backup plan. The funds are coming out of the city's gas tax reserve — money from the federal government earmarked for infrastructure.

Redfern expressed concern that the reverse osmosis system is taking resources away from other prospective projects.

"It's money that the city cannot spend on another project," she said.

In the end, Deputy Mayor Romeyn Stevenson made the motion to purchase, ship and set up the whole system in Iqaluit.

"If something were to happen that was unforeseen and we had not purchased this, we'd be putting our citizens in a place of risk that I am not ready to accept."

Clarifications

  • This story has been clarified to add the amount the City of Iqaluit previously spent on retrofitting the system.
    Aug 30, 2018 10:30 AM CT

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