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Joaqlin Estus
Indian Country Today

Residents of Iqaluit finally have hopes of getting their water system fully operational with clean water. Iqaluit, population 7,700, is the capital of Nunavut, which is Canada’s largest territory, and is 84 percent Inuit.

“The government of Canada just announced $214 million for our city to work on our water infrastructure that has been a six-year water crisis actually,” said Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell. “So we’re super excited about that and starting to feel the wave of change in making sure that we can have clean water for the future.” Bell spoke with Indian Country Today on April 8 while attending the Arctic Encounter Symposium in Anchorage.

Some of the funds will go to enlarge the city’s current source of drinking water, Geraldine Lake.

“Because of climate change we're not seeing the same amount of precipitation or snow during the year. So our lakes are not regenerating as fast as they should be. So of course that's very concerning for us. This influx of money will make sure that we have a larger source, a new source,” Bell said.

CBC News reports Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok, Inuit, said fixing the water system is necessary in order to build more homes in Iqaluit, which he noted is "growing at an unprecedented rate."

"Access to clean, safe water is a right that should be available to any community. Nunavummiut (Nunavut people) have struggled to gain this basic right for far too long," Akeeagok said.

“Working on all levels of government, in partnership with our Inuit organizations, we can achieve significant gains for Nunavummiut," he said.

In addition to building a reservoir next to Lake Geraldine, the money also will be used to replace about a third of the city’s piping dating from the Cold War era “when the U.S. military actually started our city, (called) Frobisher Bay at the time. Now it’s called Iqaluit. (The water system) it’s that old and it needs to be replaced and it should have been replaced decades ago really,” Bell said.

The water system has had one problem after another for the past several years, according to Bell. The community hit a crisis point last fall when residents reported they smelled chemicals in their tap water. Residents used bottled water while it took officials about two months to identify the source of contamination.

“One of the hardest things is that we're so remote that we have to fly in everybody, water engineers, you know, cement engineers, all of those things have had to happen.” Delayed deliveries of testing and other supplies, worker shortages, storms, and cold weather hampered investigations and repair work as well.

The source of the contamination turned out to be a fuel tank that had been installed underground in1962. Fuel had seeped from the leaking tank, through a cement barrier and surrounding soil, and into the water supply. The fuel contaminated the treatment plant, so the city is bypassing the plant for now.

(Related: Nunavut capital struggles to fix water system)

The issues Iqaluit faces are common in the Arctic, according to an August 2021 joint submittal to the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights from the Inuit Circumpolar Council and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami in Canada. The report shows 211 communities throughout the Arctic lack clean drinking water.

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