More and more Baker Lake residents are driving inland to a nearby bridge to fill their water containers because of repeated issues with the drinking water coming out of their taps, says Craig Simailak, the community’s MLA.
“I do know that a lot of my constituents are tired of having to constantly boil water,” he said. “I believe that (the Government of Nunavut) should also look at finding alternative water sources to feed our treatment plant — at least for certain periods of time when there is high turbidity in our lake.”
Baker Lake experienced four boil water advisories between July 2020 and June 2021. The Department of Health issued eight other similar advisories during that span for Resolute Bay (twice), Whale Cove (twice), Iglulik, Kugluktuk, Rankin Inlet and Pond Inlet. This doesn’t include the City of Iqaluit, which looks after its own advisories.
On July 12, boil water advisories went out in Whale Cove, Iglulik and Resolute Bay.
The majority of advisories outside of Iqaluit were due to cloudy water, also known as turbidity.
Some residents in Kugluktuk expressed surprise and confusion on social media in June when they were encouraged to boil water due to turbidity. The community’s water treatment plant was upgraded in 2017. However, the Department of Health introduced new turbidity standards in 2019.
“While turbidity itself is not a health concern, it can be indicative of further risk associated with the water quality,” reads a statement from the Department of Community and Government Services (CGS), which is responsible for funding water treatment plants. “In Kugluktuk, the water source is (the) Coppermine River. During freshet, this river receives flows from snow and ice melt within its watershed which contributes to increased turbidity within the water system. This year it was indicated by the municipality that there was higher than normal ice conditions in the Coppermine River that likely led to the increased turbidity.”
The municipality, which owns and operates the water treatment plant with support from CGS, is working with the department to review the turbidity issue, according to CGS.
$90 million over five years
Over the past five years, CGS has spent close to $90 million building new water treatment plants in Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay, Arviat, Naujaat, Coral Harbour, Iglulik, Pangnirtung and Resolute Bay.
The department declined to comment on plans and funding commitments for water treatment plants in future years.
In Whale Cove, a new plant is expected to be completed by 2024. While admittedly pleased that a funding arrangement is in place, MLA John Main, speaking in the legislative assembly on June 7, said the project is “crawling towards construction.”
“It has been a while for Whale Cove waiting for this water treatment plant,” Main said. “I remember running for MLA back in 2017 and hearing from people in the community how tiresome and what a burden it was to deal with the boil water advisories on an annual basis.”
Simailak expressed similar sentiment on June 2 when he said: “The importance of ensuring that all of our communities have access to safe and clean drinking water cannot be understated.”
At that time, CGS Minister Jeannie Ehaloak acknowledged that Baker Lake has been experiencing issues with its water treatment plant.
“In the near future we will be seeking funds to ensure that the water treatment plant is up to higher standards than what it is producing,” she said. “We have been talking with the municipality of Baker Lake on alternative sources to get water to deliver to the municipality and its residents.”
Ehaloak also spoke of a working group to develop a territory-wide water strategy. The group involves CGS, the Department of Environment and the Department of Health.
”The drinking water strategy will ensure that security of the natural resource to support the environment and supply communities with sufficient clean quality water for the present and for future generations,” said Ehaloak.
During a trip to Iqaluit last week, federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said the Government of Canada will continue to invest in better water quality.
“Water insecurity exists across Canada but it happens far too often in Indigenous communities,” he said. “We see it as something we need to keep investing in regardless of jurisdiction to make sure people have access to safe and clean drinking water.”