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Bottled water now 'readily available' amid contamination crisis in Iqaluit, says mother

As Iqaluit deals with a water contamination crisis, Taylor Matchett said there are peacekeepers at some water distribution sites, directing people where to park and helping them get water to their vehicles. "They have quite an amazing system, really," she said.

Taylor Matchett says it's hard to explain to her daughter what tap water currently can and can't be used for

Taylor Matchett's three-year-old daughter, Declan, waits in line at a water distribution point with a refillable water jug in Iqaluit. Matchett said her husband had to pay $32 for a case of bottled water at the start of the crisis, but water has become more 'readily available' in the past few days. (Submitted by Taylor Marchett)

A woman living in Iqaluit says bottled water has been "readily available" for her family over the past few days, as the city rounds out its second week dealing with a contamination crisis.

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

Taylor Matchett said the city has been posting about water distribution sites on Facebook, and that there has been "tons and tons of support" — in the form of bottled water donations, and help offered to those who can't pick it up themselves.

"They have quite an amazing system, really," she said. "There are peacekeepers, actually, that have come to the one school when I was out the other day, and they tell you where to park. There are tons of volunteers helping you bring your water to your vehicle." 

Matchett carrying jugs full of water from a distribution site in Iqaluit. She said it's been hard to explain to her daughter why she can bathe in tap water but can't use it to brush her teeth. (Submitted by Taylor Matchett)

Matchett said residents are asked to provide their house number when picking up water, but those running the distribution sites are "very good about the honour system" for those who are picking up for a friend or an elder. 

When the crisis first hit, however, Matchett said her husband paid $32 for a case of water at a store after waiting two hours for a water truck that never showed up at a designated spot. 

Location sought for water purification units

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) said its second reverse osmosis water purification unit was set to land in Iqaluit early Sunday evening, after the first one arrived Saturday. The military is still figuring out where to set both of them up. 

"There's a couple of different water sources we're looking at, in consultation with the city and the territory," said Maj. Scott Purcell, commander of the Nunavut detachment of Joint Task Force North, which is the CAF's northern military unit.

The military said it's producing water for the city, and the city will be responsible for distributing it. 

A Canadian Armed Forces plane that arrived in Iqaluit on Saturday afternoon. Maj. Scott Purcell, a commander with Joint Task Force North, said they're still working with the municipal and territorial governments to figure out where to set up a pair of reverse osmosis purification units. (David Gunn/CBC)

Since the crisis began, residents and city workers have been collecting water from the Sylvia Grinnell River. Purcell said the river has been identified as a possible source of water for the units. 

"Even if the river does freeze over, it is still what we deemed to be a viable solution," he said. 

The cold, however, does pose a challenge for the equipment. 

"Normally, these units are deployed in a warmer climate. Coming up north and operating these units is certainly something that's unique to us," he said. "It's a critical piece that a lot of our technicians that are here are looking at right now." 

Purcell could not say when he hoped to have the units up and running, saying that there were still "too many factors" to figure out. A public affairs co-ordinator with Joint Task Force North previously told CBC News she hoped they'd be operational mid-week. 

'Uneasy' about bathing in tap water

Matchett said the situation has led to unique conversations and difficulties, with young children at home.

"Our daughter is three, and she does a lot better with challenging situations when she understands them," she said. "We basically told her that, you know, you can't drink the tap water because there's gas in it." 

Matchett said her daughter, Declan, knows to use bottled water for brushing her teeth, but it's challenging to explain to her that it's still okay to use tap water for bathing. 

"She said … 'maybe the gas will get into our bodies and make us sick.'"

The advice for bathing has changed during the course of the water crisis. At first, the city said pregnant women and infants should not bathe in the tap water. On Oct. 15, officials said they could

"We tried to bathe our [18-month-old] son in it [tap water] just the other day, but as a parent, as hard as you try, sometimes they consume the water," Matchett said. "He's playing and splashing, and it made me very uneasy." 

That's when Matchett said she and her husband decided to go back to using boiled, trucked water for bathing purposes "just to be careful." 

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story said the military would help the city distribute water. It has been updated with new information clarifying that the military will produce the water, but the city will be responsible for distributing it.
    Oct 25, 2021 9:09 AM CT

With files from Raffy Boudjikanian and Kate Kyle

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