Water purification unit and military personnel arrive in Iqaluit amid contamination crisis

The Canadian Armed Forces said one reverse osmosis water purification unit landed in Iqaluit on Saturday, and another is expected to arrive on Sunday, as it responds to a request from the government of Nunavut to help provide residents with clean water.

Military will work with city to find suitable location for 'complex' reverse osmosis units

A Canadian Armed Forces plane arrived in Iqaluit on Saturday afternoon. Maj. Susan Magill, a public affairs officer, said the military was sending two reverse osmosis water purification units to the city at the request of the government of Nunavut, as well as personnel to help operate them. (David Gunn/CBC)

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) says it's sending reverse osmosis water purification units to Iqaluit at the request of the Nunavut government, after residents were ordered not to drink the water following evidence of fuel contamination in the city's treated water supply.

Maj. Susan Magill, a public affairs officer with CAF's northern military unit — Joint Task Force North — told CBC News on Saturday one of the water purification units had arrived in the city that day, and another was expected on Sunday. 

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

"We're at the very beginning stages of this task," she said. "The very first wave of personnel and equipment landed today and more will follow over the next few days." 

Magill said there would be less than 20 military personnel sent to Iqaluit in total — and that between 10 to 12 of those personnel would be operators for the water purification units. 

She also said the units are "complex" and need a good location with access to water and space for trucks to carry water out. Those details, she said, will be figured out in consultation with the City of Iqaluit. 

"I think it's too early to give an exact date but we'd hope, within a week, to be able to have the two units up and running," she said. 

Crates are unloaded from the Canadian Armed Forces plane. Magill said more military personnel are expected to arrive in Iqaluit in the coming days, and a second reverse osmosis water purification unit was expected to land on Sunday. (David Gunn/CBC)

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

On Friday, he said 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."

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

Phase 2 of an environmental assessment — the subsurface investigation — has begun, said Elgersma, and the city is expecting drill samples early next week. 

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.