Get involved on water issues: Iqaluit councillor

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At the heart of issues surrounding the several-month delay for a new brewery to begin operations and finally open its doors, is the state of Iqaluit’s water supply Lake Geraldine.

Coun. Joanasie Akumalik made his point to fellow councillors, the deputy mayor and mayor July 10 by passing around bottled water at the top of the council meeting.

Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo
City of Iqaluit councillor Joanasie Akumalik is steadfast in his concern about the diminished state of the city’s supply of potable water, Lake Geraldine. Past high-water marks on the concrete behind Akumalik show how the reservoir has been depleted over the years.

“In front of you, you have a bottle of water. It costs to buy water from the stores. I’m scared that in the future, we might have to buy water,” said Akumalik, also noting the city might have to impose water restrictions, such as once-a-week showers.

“I’m scared if we don’t look after this matter very urgently, it’s going to become a chaos for the community.”

He also refused, despite being chairperson of the engineering and public works committee, to bring forward the new proposed water and sewer bylaw – intended to replace the existing decades-old version – for a first reading. Deputy Mayor Romeyn Stevenson took on the task. Akumalik voted against.

Privatization is another issue for Akumalik, arising from the proposed water and sewer bylaw, which opens the door to licenced service providers. Akumalik told Nunavut News he just doesn’t have enough information about potential consequences, such as national or international companies moving in, to have any confidence in the matter.

Councillors Simon Nattaq, Noah Papatsie and Kuthula Matshazi also expressed concern either July 11 or at past meetings, but Mayor Madeleine Redfern said members’ statements were not the time for discussion.

Geraldine diminished

On a walk to Lake Geraldine, Akumalik explained why he voted against the by-law at first reading, and why he’s so concerned. As he approached, he swept his hand across the valley which leads to the reservoir.

“This used to be filled with overflow,” he said, adding that was the case any time of year.

Now, the green and flowering rocky valley, except for a bit of snow, is dry.

Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo
This valley – next to Lake Geraldine, Iqaluit’s supply of potable water – once gushed with overflow from the lake, but not anymore.

At the lake itself, Akumalik pointed to four islands which were never visible in the past, as well as to visible high-water marks that show just how much the lake has receded.

This is not a surprise to the city. In 2014, architecture and engineering firm EXP completed a report entitled City of Iqaluit Supplementary Water Supply Study.

“Due to available water quantity limitations of the Lake Geraldine watershed, the population that the Lake Geraldine system can support is estimated to be limited to approximately 8,300; beyond that number the city will need to supplement its current system,” states the report.

According to population statistics, said Joanasie, the lake is already servicing more than 8,000 people, as well as the hospital, the new airport, schools, the upcoming port construction, the upcoming Qikiqtaaluk Corporation hotel, hotels, the boarding home, and major companies.

EXP offered a solution in its report: use a specific point of the Apex River watershed to supplement Lake Geraldine, at an estimated cost at the time of $6.3 million.

“The council and the administration are at fault for neglecting that report,” said Akumalik to fellow council members, adding he had photos of the lake to show them.

At the lake, Akumalik speculated why the city ignored the report, why it didn’t take action.

“At that time, the city was going through a crisis with the dump fire. So I don’t think the city or the committees ever really had a chance to deal with that report,” he said.

The state of the city dump is another ongoing problem. The summer 2014 dump fire cost the city $3 million. July 11 saw a fire erupt there, the second so far this summer.

The EXP report is not the only one the city has seemingly ignored. Nunavut News reported in June last year that York University assistant professor Andrew Medeiros, in his third paper in as many years, stated the City of Iqaluit’s water supply could dry up by 2024. The city refused to comment for that story.

Medeiros also noted all it would take for the city’s water supply to dry up is one bad year.

“If you get a warm and sunny year, that means you’re going to melt off that lake really quickly, all that water from the wintertime is going to flush out in May, no recharge, no rainfall, lots of evaporation and it won’t fill back up again by the time the lake freezes. You’re going to have a huge problem. You’ll just run out of water,” said Madeiros.

“That’s exactly what happened to Iglulik.”

Get involved, says Akumalik

In an e-mail July 11, communications manager Andrea Spitzer stated the city is continuously monitoring the water levels of Geraldine Lake.

“It should be noted that water is replenished during the spring and summer ice melt, as well as with rainfall that occurs during the spring, summer and fall,” she stated.

“The city has commissioned a study to review supplementary water sources and identify viable options for the future. The report is tentatively scheduled to be completed by early 2019.”

Nunavut Brewery staff sat in the visitor’s section as council voted on the first reading of the proposed water and sewer by-law. A request for an interview with the business partners, who have been paying staff for months as the brewery languishes in limbo, went unanswered. The brewery has requested 8000 litres of water, as the 2000-litre limit for the average tank size is not adequate to supply it.

Akumalik has no qualms about the brewery delay, despite the fact the city gave the go-ahead in 2015.

“They’re not stuck in a place. They keep amending their plan. One example would be, they never asked for a tasting room. But now they’ve asked for that, and that kind of changed the whole picture. And they were asking to haul water themselves,” he said.

“That bothered me a bit because if the city allows them to do that, then we’re privatizing water.”

The state of the city’s potable water supply, as well as the water and sewer by-law, are expected to figure prominently at the next council meeting July 24. Akumalik urges the public and the business sector to get involved.

“It’s very important for the future, the future of our community and the future of our children. We should have dealt with it a long time ago,” he said.

Akumalik could not say if there would be a public hearing on the new proposed water and sewer by-law, nor could Spitzer address the process by press time.

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Michele LeTourneau
Michele LeTourneau first arrived at NNSL's headquarters in Yellowknife in1998, with a BA honours in Theatre. For four years she documented the arts across the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Following a very short stint as a communications officer with the Government of the Northwest Territories, Michele spent a decade at a community-based environmental monitoring board in the mining industry, where she worked with Inuit, Chipewyan, Tlicho, Yellowknives Dene and Metis elders to help develop traditional knowledge and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit contributions for monitoring and management plans. She rejoined NNSL and moved to Iqaluit in May 2014 to write for Nunavut News. Michele has received a dozen awards for her work with NNSL.