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Nunavut Faces a Water Security Crisis

By Todd Westcott 04:16PM June 15, 2017

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According to a recent study by a team of Canadian researchers, Iqaluit is facing an imminent water security crisis, so too is the territory.

“Even under very conservative estimates that assume the current rate of consumption, we have quantified extreme vulnerability to the municipal water supply for any currently proposed solutions,” wrote the authors Michael Bakaic, Andrew Scott Medeiros, Jessica F. Peters, and Brent B. Wolfe in the study Hydrologic monitoring tools for freshwater municipal planning in the Arctic: the case of Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada published in June 2017 in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

Andrew Medeiros, northern research scholar at Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies told Water Canada that, “Nunavut entirely, not just Iqaluit, has a much larger problem than that. They don’t actually have a water policy, a program, an adaptation plan, or anything. They do not have a freshwater strategy. [Nunavut] is the only jurisdiction in Canada that doesn’t.”

According to a previous paper that Medeiros co-authored in 2016, municipalities in Nunavut own and operate their water infrastructure and treatment systems, with management and maintenance provided by the territorial government.

The Nunavut Water Board (NWB) provides licenses for water use and waste disposal, but the organization lacks the scope to appropriately govern freshwater resources. The report noted, “Several obvious limitations exist regarding its ability to develop broader water policies. As policy articulation is not the focal point of specific licensing decisions, the NWB is limited in its ability to analyze impacts and issues extending beyond any given application.”

“There’s at least one employee in the Government of Nunavut who’s trying to put together an initial freshwater strategy,” said Medeiros. However, he is skeptical that this process could be effective, “This is something bigger than one person.” Medeiros pointed to the Northwest Territories’ strategy, Northern Voices, Northern Waters, which took about five years and involved a broad range of stakeholders from Indigenous leaders and scientists to the federal government and intendent funding agencies.

Iqaluit may run out of water, but in Igloolik, they already did. “They drained their lake completely dry,” said Medeiros, “They had no water left, so they had to put some emergency measures in place, temporary solutions that weren’t particularly good from a human health standpoint. They basically tapped into a water source that was contaminated, because they had no plan.”

In the most recent study, Medeiros and the co-authors investigated Iqaluit’s primary freshwater source, Lake Geraldine. They predicted “the maximum length of time that the viability of Lake Geraldine could be extended is 15 years.” But the brief extension would come at the cost of the health of the Apex River.

While the researchers offered some alternative pathways for Iqaluit, a lack of data across the territory prevents similar assessments for other communities. “The government of Nunavut, shockingly, has no idea how much water is in their reservoirs,” said Medeiros. “Access to even simple data can be problematic.”

Ultimately, the researchers recommended that municipal consumption be cut by 15 per cent compared to the current average. They suggest this is concert with a replenishment program that transfers water into Lake Geraldine during the late winter or early spring to extend the lifespan of the water supply. But, without a governance or data strategy, water security will continue to be a problem in the territory.

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