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Bypass system approved for Iqaluit’s water treatment plant

·3 min read

The Government of Nunavut has approved the City of Iqaluit’s plan to build a bypass system for the city’s water treatment plant.

The system would allow water to bypass the underground tanks at the water treatment plant — the water taken from the bypass system would be unfiltered, but would still receive chlorination and UV disinfection.

Drinking the city’s water has been off limits since Oct. 12, when Nunavut’s Department of Health issued a do-not-consume water advisory due to the discovery of fuel in one of the tanks at the water treatment plant.

City councillors approved the $100,000 bypass system on Nov. 15, pending approval from the chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, to help prevent future contamination issues.

At the time, Iqaluit’s chief administrative officer, Amy Elgersma, said the bypass system could be installed as early as Nov. 20.

When Nunatsiaq News contacted the city on Wednesday for an update on whether the bypass system had been installed, city spokesperson Aleksey Cameron said the city was still waiting for approval of the plan.

Nunatsiaq News reached out to the Department of Health that afternoon to ask why it hadn’t been approved yet.

On Thursday morning, Cameron sent an update: “Since yesterday: The city received approval from [the chief public health officer] to proceed with installing a bypass at the water treatment plant. This is a contingency measure.”

Nunatsiaq News has not received a response from the Department of Health about why it took 10 days to approve the bypass system.

The bypass system is part of a larger process the city is undertaking to lift the do-not-consume order. The department has laid out eight requirements that include a monitoring plan, three sets of clean water results and a cleaning of pipes along the city’s water distribution system.

Cameron didn’t have an update as of Wednesday about how far along the city is in completing the work, but said, “The city continues to work with the Government of Nunavut to meet these unique requirements.”

The city has also released water test results in co-ordination with its consulting firm, WSP Canada, on Tuesday, which show tests for hydrocarbon contaminants came back non-detectable from Nov. 7 to 15.

According to available data, the last time testing showed detectable amounts of petroleum in the water was a reading of 100 ug/l of lubricants and oils on Oct. 23 in the treatment plant’s South Clear well — an underground holding tank next to the North Clear well, which had been the first detected site of contamination.

City staff stand over the suspected source of the water supply’s fuel contamination before removing it from nearby the water treatment plant. (Photo courtesy of the City of Iqaluit)

The city has been taking samples from six locations in the water treatment plant and seven locations throughout the distribution system, according to a city news release.

City officials believe the source of the original fuel contamination is a fuel spill from a tank that dates back to the 1960s. The city removed that tank on Nov. 19.

The Government of Nunavut has also been testing the city’s water for hydrocarbon contamination, and has yet to publicize its data in full. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson distributed a few graphs to media on Oct. 22.

Health spokesperson Danarae Sommerville told Nunatsiaq News on Nov. 17 that the government would release the full data its collected, but gave no timeline for its release.

There has been no update since.

David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News

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