It could be at least another two years until the community of Whale Cove can finally say goodbye to boil water advisories for good.
The community has had to boil its water intermittently for the better part of four years. The most recent advisory has been in place since December of last year.
The news that Whale Cove could be waiting until 2021 until its aging treatment plant is replaced came to light during a recent sitting of the legislative assembly when Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main asked the minister of Community and Government Services, Lorne Kusugak for an update on the situation.
“It’s no surprise that the residents of Whale Cove are very tired of the boil water advisory,” said Main.
Kusugak responded by saying a study is currently be undertaken to test the quality of the lake near town where the community draws its water from. That study is expected to be completed in July.
“After the study has been completed, we will try to see how expensive it will be or how much money it will cost to put water cleaning equipment into the reservoir and also the cost of a water treatment plant,” he said.
“We will request money from the FMB (First Nations Financial Management Board) and try to get work done on it hopefully in the summer of 2021.”
Temporary fix a bust
In the summer of 2017, the territorial government spent $500,000 on a water filtration system intended to remove the coliform bacteria from the community’s water.
They had to wait until the following summer to install it due to the freeze-up.
However, even with the system installed it has proved to be ineffective. Whale Cove SAO Ian Copeland told Kivalliq News that the small-scale system couldn’t keep up with the community’s demand. As a result the hamlet decided to shut it down and resume normal operations at the existing pumphouse.
“They tried sending us a filter box, like a sea-can full of filters and UV rays … and it was a waste of probably a million bucks. They should have never bothered to do a temporary (solution) and fixed that pumphouse completely,” said mayor Stanley Adjuk in an interview earlier this year.
“We’ve had this water boil advisory for four years in a row now … They want to get that water plant fixed up. Up to today we’re fighting to get it fixed. If it was a bigger centre it would’ve been dealt with, done, finished.”
Copeland said the GN is working on plans to increase the capacity of the new filtration system.
“We’re not overly optimistic that it will work but we’ll give it a try,” he said.
GN refusing to reimburse Whale Cove for clean water
Copeland told Kivalliq News that about a year ago, the hamlet started to partner with the local co-op to offer free clean water to its residents.
The co-op already had a reverse osmosis system in place, which residents could use. At the hamlet’s request the store increased its capacity to meet the community’s needs.
Each month the co-op bills the water consumed to the hamlet, which in turn forwards the statements to the department of community and government services.
Copeland said, despite being legally responsible for providing safe drinking water to the community, the territorial government has been ignoring the bills.
“They say we never actually got approval for this initiative. But we still think that it was a solution to the problem at least for the drinking water,” he said.
“They are legally responsible to pay for this and if they don’t do it soon we will take them to court.”
Cause of advisories still unclear
According to the government’s advisories, the reason water needs to be boiled is due to the presence of coliform bacteria in the water. According to a 2018 story in Nunatsiaq News, Coliform is a type of bacteria that occurs naturally in plants, soil and in the digestive tracts of humans and animals. However, “humans are at risk of becoming ill from water-borne coliform.”
While the statements issued by the GN describe advisories as a precautionary measure, they also say people should “avoid swallowing (the water).”
Copeland said the language used is confusing and he wonders if the issue is more serious than the government lets on.
“They do say that this boil water advisory is only an advisory and actually our water isn’t all that bad but just to be on the safe side boil the water,” he said. “In the back of your mind you wonder how honest everyone is being.”
Rankin Inlet’s boil water advisory cause for concern
Meanwhile Rankin Inlet is entering into one of the longer boil water advisories in recent memory.
The community has been told to boil its water since May 23.
Kivalliq News requested an interview on the situation in Whale Cove and Rankin from the Department of Community and Government Services but had not received a response by press time.
Copeland said the water issues Rankin Inlet is facing are causing concern for Whale Cove.
“I fear Rankin’s situation because these regional centres normally they get priority. So we’re a little worried that our water treatment plant might not happen in 2021 because the money might end up going to Rankin instead of us,” he said.
“It’s usually what happens because we’re the little guy and we get strung out here and we often don’t get what we deserve.”