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Water Today Title December 15, 2017

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Updated 11/4/13

Better tasting drinking water coming to Inuvik

Providing potable water to Arctic communities is no easy task. The communities are small, the cost of meeting drinking water standards high and the ground is frozen. The town of Inuvik which sits on the shores of the Mackenzie Delta near the Beaufort Sea is a point in case.

Inuvik currently has a Class 2 level treatment plant with sand filtering. Once treated, the water is distributed through above-ground insulated steel pipes that are wrapped in metal, called utilidors. Underground pipes are not an option because of the permafrost. The water is tempered or heated to 10 degrees to ensure that it does not freeze. A similar utilidor system carries the wastewater to tailing ponds.

Then there is the quality of the source water

In July 2012 Inuvik was put under boil water advisory due to positive bacterial water sample results, caused by higher than normal turbidity, or muddy water, and a difficulty maintaining the correct chlorine levels. Kylik Kisoun Taylor who lives in Inuvik with his young family has not used tap water since, without filtering it first.

"In the Spring time they switch the water source from the Mackenzie River to a land locked lake," he says. "During that time the water is a brown colour and does not look safe to drink. Most people use bottled water during that time. The rest of the year it seems fine but does not taste very good, we have a filter system and it seems to do the trick. During the boil water advisory we had to get bottles," he says.

According to Taylor, about 50% of the residents use bottled water if they can afford it and don't like the taste of the tap water.
"We get 5 gallon jugs of water that is filtered locally and sold at the grocery stores. All the other types of bottled water are available here but it's expensive so the big bottles are what people use in their homes. We were spending about 10 to 15 dollars a day when we needed to get the jugs," he says.

Inuvik Director of Public Services, Rick Campbell confirms that the water source has to be switched from the Mackenzie River to Hidden Lake in the spring as there are not enough barriers in the current treatment plant to deal with the increased river turbidity during the summer months. The water from Hidden Lake is not treated but chlorine is used to disinfect it.

But, according to Campbell work on a new treatment plant first announced in 2011 by former Inuvik mayor Denny Rogers is underway. The upgrade is expected to cost between $9 to $11 million. "A contract for the water filtering system has been awarded and we expect the engineering contract to be out within a couple of months," he says.

New problems brought on by climate change are however emerging in the Arctic.

Permafrost sinking is adding a new and costly twist to building in the Arctic. According to the Geographic Society of Canada, Inuvik has experienced the largest increase in air temperatures in all of Canada in the past century and much of the permafrost along the valley is at temperatures close to the melting point.

"At the moment, the only thing we can do is dig deeper for the pilings that support the treatment plant foundation and anchor the utilidors," says Campbell.

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