August 1, 2008

Scientist cites threats to Nunavut drinking water

Rising population, dry summers could have major impact

JANE GEORGE

Higher temperatures, more evaporation of rain and snow, and a larger population could siphon off Nunavut's water supply in the future.

For the moment, Nunavut has nothing to fear, said Paul Budkewitsch, a scientist with Natural Resources Canada, who attended last week's conference on planning and climate change in Iqaluit.

But several factors could make the territory's supply of clean drinking water increasingly vulnerable to shortages.

The dam above Iqaluit that holds Lake Geraldine, the city’s water reservoir. A federal government scientist says the day may come when there’s not enoug water to go around.
(FILE PHOTO)

Pilot studies on the water supplies in Clyde River and Iqaluit show there's more than enough usable water in these two communities

But if winter snow cover starts to melt sooner, due to warming conditions, evaporation may affect water in lakes and rivers.

Dry, hot summers may also lead to less available water. In 2002, Iqaluit saw its driest August in 57 years, with only 41 per cent of normal precipitation.

This summer has also been relatively hot and dry - all of which may reduce the water level in Iqaluit's Lake Geraldine reservoir.

With the city's rising population - where a population of 12,000 is forecast for 2026, there's also danger that Iqaluit may someday lack water because it will no longer have enough to go around.

Budkewitsch said there's a need to protect and conserve water supplies and, at the same time, look for new sources.

Measures to keep water sources clean include making sure areas around water reservoirs are not at risk of contamination.

To protect against water loss and erosion in reservoirs, the sides of reservoirs can also be shored up with resistant liners.

Snow fences, similar to those set up near the Road to Nowhere subdivision in Iqaluit, can also help retain snow so that it accumulates and melts in the right place.

At the same time, topographical maps of land around communities may point the way to new sources of water.

But these are not the entire solution to preventing future water crises, Budkewitsch cautions.

Nunavummiut use about one-third less water than the average Canadian, but everyone should need to think before they use water, he says.

In Iqaluit, where water is piped into the majority of houses, water consumption is already closer to the Canadian norm.

The recent pilot studies in Clyde River and Iqaluit also looked at the depth of water reservoirs, using equipment that can be used easily by public works employees.

The water supplies in four more Nunavut communities will also be studied. Although these communities haven't been selected yet, they're likely to be chosen from among those expected to be hit hard by climate change.