A bypass system that allowed Iqaluit people to drink the city’s tap water again after it was contaminated with fuel could have gone online sooner, according to a report from an independent review of the 2021 water crisis.
The report prepared by Toronto-based consulting firm DPRA for Nunavut’s Department of Community and Government Services (CGS) details how disagreements between the city and territorial government affected the response to the crisis. The report was released in May and was recently provided to Breaking: by CGS.
City residents went nearly two months without clean tap water after hydrocarbons were detected in the city’s water supply in October 2021 and eventually traced to the water treatment plant. The “do not consume” order issued by territorial health officials was finally lifted in December.
The consultant’s report says the city of Iqaluit commissioned its own design for a system that would bypass the contaminated water treatment plant after rejecting a CGS design.
“If the city and CGS had been able to coordinate the design specifications for the bypass earlier, it is possible that construction of the bypass could have begun in early November. ”, reads the report.
The report says the city commissioned its own design “to meet certain technical specifications.”
“The city appears to have evaluated the CGS-commissioned bypass project only after [the Department of Health] required bypass installation as a prerequisite for lifting the Do Not Consume advisory,” the report states.
At a November 2021 meeting, city officials expressed concerns about the design of the CGS, including around risks related to pressure and flow and the potential for long-term damage to the city’s piping infrastructure. city due to sediment.
“A second bypass design may have been unnecessary if the city had granted CGS full access to Iqaluit [water treatment plant]; or if the City had transmitted its preferred bypass specifications to CGS earlier in the process,” the report says.
The bypass system went into operation in January 2022 and was used until the beginning of this year.
The report also says that CGS spent a total of about $9 million on the water crisis, of which $6.9 million was on bottled water alone.
Between October and December 2021, more than 1.
5 million liters of bottled water were purchased and shipped to Iqaluit on 39 charter flights.
The report also says CGS received a mobile water treatment plant that was built specifically for the North before the water emergency, but it arrived damaged, was not adequately winterized and was missing a generator.
CGS also did not receive an operator’s manual for the mobile plant and CGS staff “lacked the specialized knowledge necessary to overcome these challenges without expert assistance,” the report states.
Instead, the Canadian Armed Forces deployed its Joint Task Force North (JTFN) to establish a reverse osmosis water purification unit (ROWPU) on the Sylvia Grinnell River to deliver treated water to residents. That effort was called Operation LENTUS.
“As the city’s support and cooperation was required to bring the ROWPU online, progress toward this goal stalled for several days after JTFN’s arrival in Iqaluit,” the report says.
“As a result of these different risk assessments, the city perceived Operation LENTUS as an unnecessary distraction from remediation efforts in Iqaluit. [water treatment plant]. The city preferred instead to continue filling its tankers in the Sylvia Grinnell River.”
‘Defensive approach’ to collaboration
The report says the city anticipated the do-not-consume advisory could be lifted by the end of October 2021, while the territory’s public health director provided the city with a list of eight criteria that must be addressed before the measure can be applied. order. be lifted.
It also says the city prioritized remediation efforts at the water treatment plant, while the territory prioritized addressing short-term needs by providing bottled water and producing treated water for residents.
“The City perceived that these initiatives had limited its autonomy in addressing the emergency. As a result of this perception, City staff appear to have taken a cautious or defensive approach in collaborative efforts with CGS,” the report says.
Overall, the report found there was a lack of clarity around the roles and responsibilities of those involved in the response.
“However, despite the resulting challenges, the community continued to function during this nine-week crisis,” the report says.
The report also said the city believed the risk of recontamination at the water treatment plant was low, while CGS and the Department of Health “believed the risk of recontamination was sufficiently high.”
“A shared understanding of the critical and complementary functions of the service provider (the City), the regulator [Health]”, and the facilitator or coordinator (CGS) could have avoided the delays that prompted the completion of the system to avoid the Iqaluit water treatment plant until January 2022,” the report says.
Winter conditions also contributed to difficulties with water supply and storage, and supply chain issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic created problems shipping materials to Iqaluit, the report said.
The consultant’s report makes seven recommendations to the territorial government and the city and cites several “lessons learned” from the water crisis.
No one from the city was available to comment on the review report Wednesday. A letter from the city responding to the report says it does not question the recommendations.
A Department of Health spokesperson said it is aware of the CGS report and plans to review it to see what else is needed.
The report makes the following recommendations:
- Develop an updated territorial emergency management plan that includes a risk management framework.
- Amend territorial legislation to clarify emergency response roles and responsibilities.
- Conduct annual or biannual emergency response training.
- Develop a mobile water treatment plant.
- Provide “onboarding” materials to new government personnel, explaining their roles during emergency response.
- Maintain a list of communications staff who are fluent in the official languages of Nunavut.
- Ensure a heated storage facility for bottled water, water treatment equipment, and water tanks.