City of Iqaluit Water Facts

Current Water Situation Updates

January 16th, 2022 
The City continues to receive and respond to the concerns expressed by residents regarding the smell of fuel in their water in recent days.  Residents first started contacting the Water Quality Hotline on Wednesday, January 12th to report odours in their water.  Overnight, a significant number of reports were made, and on-call staff were sent to collect samples from the points in the distribution system that were close to these residences.  Reports to the hotline continued throughout the day on Thursday, January 13th.  
 
While sampling continues, the City immediately commenced a directional flushing program of the distribution system.  The directional flushing process involves releasing water from selected areas within the distribution system, to ensure that any residual trace amounts of Hydrocarbons are expelled from the system.  Directional flushing is considered to be one of the best ways to preserve high water quality and maintain the reliability of the water distribution system.  The City also undertook to analyze all data available, and noted that there were trace amounts of hydrocarbons that briefly entered the distribution system on Monday, and again on Wednesday in the week leading up to the influx of complaints.  These trace amounts were at or near the detection limit of the real-time monitoring instrumentation, below the alarm limits. The alarm limits are well below the Screening Values for Health, however the City has since further lowered the alarm set point for additional early warning of any potential future events.  
 
Petroleum Hydrocarbons can be detected by the human nose at very low concentrations, at levels much lower than instrumental detection or laboratory analysis.  While all recent test results are at or below detection limts, the City understands that this is a serious concern for residents.  City staff, with assistance and guidance from engineers and experts are working very hard to solve this problem as soon as possible.  The City appreciates and would like to thank all residents that have called the Water Quality Hotline to report odour in their water.  This helps staff respond more quickly. 
 
GN Public Health has not instituted a Do Not Consume Order as a result of these latest concerns, as all water is testing within the Screening Values for Health.  The City recognizes however that residents may be uncomortable consuming or using tap water that has residual odours of fuel.   
 
As of December 10, 2021 the Do Not Consume order that was issued on October 12, 2021 has been lifted. 

Drinking-Water Guidelines

The Government of Canada has set out standards for drinking water, called the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. We want to assure residents that water in the City's system meets the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.  

The Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality from Health Canada are what set out the acceptable levels for contaminants. Like most Canadian cities, Iqaluit’s water is extremely pure. In fact, our water has generally been considered one of the most pure in Canada.  

Water can pick up elements of everything it comes into contact with. This may include plants, silt, minerals and other things. Most of these are harmless but some may pose a risk. This is why there are guidelines that set out the acceptable levels of these substances in drinking water. This is why water can taste slightly different in different cities, but these Drinking Water Standards mean Canadians can trust our water is safe to drink. 

Initial Response

The City began testing for what are known as BTEX/PHC[F1-F4], which tests for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes (BTEX) Petroleum Hydrocarbons (PH) in the water using 11 different parameters on October 4th.  Initial samples were being taken from both within the water treatment plant and the reservoir as well as the distribution system.

The City has been taking samples from multiple points within the water treatment plant and throughout the water distribution system. The sample points from the water distribution system are spread across Iqaluit, to provide an all-encompassing assessment of the water quality. Sample results can be viewed here.

Current Water Quality

The water in Iqaluit’s distribution system (how water is delivered to residents through either taps or trucked water) has met every standard set out by these guidelines and continues to do so. Based on water sample tests taken by the City, there have been two samples since Octobter of 2021 in the distribution system that showed trace values of hydrocarbons that were at or slightly above laboratory detection limits, they were still well under the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. 

In the fall of 2021 during the intial phase of the water emergency, there were several days between October 12th and October 19th on which samples taken at the water treatment plant from the North clearwell  (holding where water waits to achieve chlorine contact time, prior to being transfered to the reservoir) where test results showed a significant concentration of contamination. The North Clearwell was isolated and the water removed for remediation.  As a result of investigative work, the South Clearwell test results were above both the detection level and the acceptable level as per the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. Additionally, samples indicated that the reservoir, where the treated water is stored prior to being distributed by piped and trucked water, also had elevated concentration of contamination. While these sections of the water treatment plant had elevated levels, based on sampling, those elevated levels did not present in the water distribution system.

Investigation & Next Steps

The cause of petroleum hydrocarbon odors and detection in the water was thoroughly investigated by the City and qualified water engineers and experts. The cause was identified as a historical, below-ground fuel storage tank, buried within the void adjacent to the water treatment plant. The tank was removed and the spill was remediated. Further mitigation work was completed including the deep cleaning of the bedrock in the void and areas below the Water Treatment plant. New testing and monitoring requirements have been put in place. The City has installed on-site, real time water quality monitoring stations. As a result, the City of Iqaluit now has one of the most stringent water testing systems in Canada. 

If you have any water quality concerns, the city requests you submit this form or call 979.5603. Please note, this is only for water quality concerns, not for water delivery or access.

 

Timeline Summary

Situation Updates 

January 06, 2022 Update

The City’s Water Treatment Plant continues to produce high-quality drinking water.  The drinking water distributed through the city’s distribution system is in compliance with Territorial Standards and the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines.

As a result of this water quality emergency, the City has taken on a series of actions to enhance and expand monitoring of both water treatment plant operations, and the quality of the drinking water produced.  The City has developed contingency measures to be prepared in the event of a future contamination event and is currently planning for the permanent remediation and repair of the concrete tanks that were impacted during this water quality emergency.

On December 16th, while work was underway at the Water Treatment Plant, the treated water quality monitoring station detected measurable levels of hydrocarbons traced back to one of the treated water tanks, upstream from the reservoirs.  The City staff and on-site engineers responded quickly, following the pre-established response plan. The response plan involved a brief shutdown of the plant and an inspection, to quickly identify the issue.  The risk was rapidly mitigated with localized flushing and monitoring. As a result of the rapid response, no detectable levels of hydrocarbons were measured in the distribution system. 

It was determined that the incident resulted from maintenance work within the plant. The work undertaken caused the water level in a previously unaffected tank to rise to an unprecedented high level, well above the normal water level kept in this tank. This subsequently revealed a breach in an upper section of the previously unaffected tank.  As a result, water from the plant’s process wastewater tank made contact with this compromised section for a short brief time while the maintenance work was being conducted at the plant.  The City’s response to this incident was the deployment of a single tank bypass to be immediately completed as part of the response, redirecting water away from that tank and allowing for additional inspection.

The affected tank remains out of service until such time that permanent remediation and commissioning of the affected tank is complete.

January 06, 2022 Update

As part of the City's ongoing commitment of enhanced water quality monitoring for Petroleum Hydrocarbons, the City has launched a new page titled "Water Results" within the "Water Facts" section of the City's website. In this section, the City will publish drinking water test results from the ongoing water quality monitoring of the drinking water distribution system. The page can be directly accessed here.

December 10, 2021 Update

The City of Iqaluit is advising residents that effective the 10 December, 2021, the Government of Nunavut's Department of Health has lifted its Do Not Consume Order, issued on October 12, 2021. This means that all piped and trucked water can now be used for all potable water uses. The water this is being produced by the Water Treatment Plant meets or is better than the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines.
 
As the Do Not Consume Order has been lifted by Public Health, the City has suspended all bottled water distribution and closed all water refill depots effective the 10 December, 2021.

 

December 9, 2021 Update

In light of recent reporting, we are clarifying a series of unrelated events that happen to coincide roughly with the onset of the mid-October Water Crisis, which we believe has created some confusion surrounding the timeline of events. The City of Iqaluit and the staff at the Water Treatment Plant take the safety of the water very seriously, and so are frequently running routine check-ups and diagnostics on all equipment and looking into any potential concerns raised by staff and citizens.

On October 8th and 12th, a boiler mechanic was conducting repairs on a leak to the fuel day tank supply line. The repair resulted in fuel smells at the Water Treatment Plant during this repair work. This leak and fuel smell were not related to the contamination in the Water Treatment Plant or reports of a fuel smell coming from drinking water.

During initial investigations into complaints regarding a fuel-like odour in the water, the City quickly began consulting with external agencies and began testing to identify the possibility of contamination, from various sources. On October 10th, a Public Health Officer visited the water treatment plan and noted a “sheen” on the surface of water in one of the filtration tanks, a tank which was not in operation. While this initially raised concern for the Public Health Officer, staff who are familiar with the Water Treatment Plant’s filtration process know that harmless organic material in the raw water produces this effect, during normal operating conditions. Filtration in this filter bed had been turned off due to an electrical issue that arose during a power failure. This regularly occurring “sheen” was identified to not be a cause for concern and was unrelated to the Water Treatment Plant contamination and odours in the water.

We take the safety of Iqaluit’s drinking water very seriously. As soon as a concern was noted, the City immediately complied with drinking water regulations and contacted the regulatory authorities to report the matter. Following this reporting, the City initiated an investigation. As part of this investigation, the City worked with external agencies and engaged qualified engineering professionals and other experts to help guide the investigation and lead the remediation efforts.

December 8, 2021 Update

The City of Iqaluit remains under a Do Not Consume order as it awaits test results from the Government of Nunavut to be released. All tests undertaken by the City of Iqaluit indicate the water quality meets or exceeds acceptable levels according to the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines. 

The city continues to cooperate with the Government of Nunavut on their requests to remove the Do Not Consumer Order, which include building in new procedures for responses to concerns and other long term actions.

November 22, 2021 Update

On October 24, City Staff and WSP field investigation personnel discovered what has become known as “the void.” The void is an area that is accessed via the basement of the Water Treatment Plant and is very difficult to access and requires specialized training for entry. 

The void, as it is called, is the space between the water treatment plant and exposed bedrock. The intent of the void is to provide an air barrier between the water treatment plant and the external environment, similar to how an insulated coffee mug works to keep your coffee hot. In this case, the water treatment plant is the smaller vessel within a larger vessel. 

While in the void, field investigation personnel were able to identify key evidence of the source of the contamination. The evidence suggests the source of the contamination to be a historic underground fuel storage tank that was installed as part of the original water treatment plant in 1962. Other than the historic underground fuel storage tank, there were no other identified sources of contamination. 

On the same day as the discovery of the historic underground fuel storage tank, City staff and onsite engineering personnel were able to identify strong evidence of the point-of-entry of the contaminant into the water treatment plant. The evidence suggests this point-of-entry is the raw water storage tank where water is stored prior to treatment. Onsite personnel were able to isolate and bypass the suspected point-of-entry on the same day.