'They're in a crisis mode': Iqaluit could run out of water as early as this year
Iqaluit could run out of water as early as this year and as late as 2024 because of climate change and the city’s growing population, one expert warns.
The city’s demands for more water will irreversibly deplete its main water source, Lake Geraldine, says arctic freshwater researcher Andrew Medeiros. And if that were to happen, the city doesn’t have an emergency plan.
Medeiros, who published his findings on the issue two years ago, argued on Your Morning Friday, that the city didn’t "respond in a proactive manner … and now they’re in a crisis mode.”
Two weeks ago, city officials in Nunavut’s capital issued a water supply shortage warning its residents to refrain from commercial or personal car washes.
The city’s problem is compounded by the fact that several arctic communities in the region all rely on the same lake reservoir for water.
Medeiros said the “stars aligned” this year when the frozen lake didn’t melt enough to allow for water from rain or snow to refill the lake. Iqaluit’s supply runs at its lowest at the end of each winter when the lake is iced over—before the ice melts and warmer weather brings in the rain.
The city, which says it’s been working on a long-term fix for years, was warned about the issue two years earlier when Medeiros published his findings in Arctic Science. At the time, the city and his team had workshopped some ideas, but Medeiros argues that they didn’t adequately tackle the problem.
A task force, made up of consultants and city officials, is now looking at solutions such as repairing the city’s leaky pipes and pumping water into the lake from surrounding rivers and streams. Their goal is to make sure Lake Geraldine has enough water by Oct. 1 so that residents and businesses can make it through the winter.
But Medeiros is critical of the city’s current solution of pumping water out of the nearby Apex River and its future plan to pump out water from the Sylvia Grinnell River.
The city of 8,000 saw a 10 per cent population increase from 2011 to 2016, according to Statistics Canada, and he says that the rivers are too small and don’t have enough flowing water to meet the residents’ needs.
During a council meeting in July, councillor Joanasie Akumalik explained how water levels around the lake had dropped more than two metres—with islands even appearing in the middle of the lake for the first time.
Iqaluit's water issues have been ongoing
The limited water supply and the way the city distributes water has been an ongoing issue.
The main source of water, Lake Geraldine, only holds 1.4 million cubic metres of water, which is nearly the same amount the city uses in a year. Increased evaporation, warmer weather and declining levels of rainfall has exacerbated the problem in Iqaluit.
In fact, precipitation levels this past February, April and June were at their lowest levels historically for those months, according to a city assessment.
A newly built brewery even had to delay its launch because the city was worried the facility would need too much water. Up until this Friday, half a dozen future employees were waiting on the okay from the city.
In July, the city council had considered entering into agreements with private companies to provide water services, but ultimately voted against it out of fears that it could lead to the privatization of the water supply.
During a weekend of strong winds in January, Nunavut’s capital had to temporarily suspend all municipal services, including the 2,000 litres of water that is regularly trucked to homes, businesses and waste management.