Photo By: Isaac Demeester from Unsplash

The city of Iqaluit, the capital of the territory of Nunavut, declared a state of emergency recently due to the high concentration of fuel found in their water supply. 

The city has advised residents not to drink the water even if it is filtered or boiled. Instead, a supply of bottled water is being flown in each day. Since the declaration, the federal government has agreed to send support from the Canadian Armed Forces.

“Our Canadian Forces members will always be there to support communities in their time of need. In response to a request for assistance, we will be on the ground in Iqaluit to help produce drinking water for the people of Iqaluit,” read a statement from Federal Defence Minister, Harjit Sajjan.

The Iqaluit water crisis is not new by any means. The city and its population of approximately 8,000 residents has struggled with contaminated water for over six years.

Iqaluit is one of many regions across Canada experiencing contamination in their water supply. As of September 2021, a total of 44 Indigenous communities across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Ontario were still operating under long-term drinking water advisories. This was a hot topic in Canada’s most recent federal election, but it’s unclear what work is being done to establish a permanent solution. 

A recent investigation revealed that Iqaluit’s water crisis was caused by soil or groundwater contamination outside of the treatment plant, which has potentially made its way into one of the water tanks. 

Currently, the city of Iqaluit is flushing the water lines to drain the affected tank and allow for a detailed inspection by specialists in the field. The city also plans to collect samples next week and use those results to determine next steps for the short term.

In the long term, fixing the city’s water supply will cost approximately $180 million. This is a massive undertaking and will require support from the federal government. An application for this project was submitted recently, but likely will not be completed in time for the winter months.

In the past week, over 200,000 litres of clean water have been flown in from other Canadian provinces and territories, as well as from Europe. For residents who do not have access to a car to pick up their water or other food items, home deliveries have been arranged.

The contaminated water supply has also forced healthcare providers to postpone all elective surgeries and perform only emergency procedures, as the current water supply does not allow operating room staff to properly sterilize their hands. The hospital will continue operating at limited capacity until the issue is resolved.

It has not been announced when the do-not-consume order will be lifted, as the public health department wants to be 100 per cent positive before allowing residents to drink the water. The order is expected to remain in place for at least another week.