No timeline for Iqaluit water crisis review, but minister commits to public release

Nunavut Health Minister John Main says there’s still no timeline for when a review might commence, but the government would make public as much of the review as possible. (David Gunn/CBC News)

Nunavut’s health minister says one of the primary goals of a third-party review of the Iqaluit water crisis is to restore the public’s confidence in the government.

In an interview with CBC News, John Main committed to releasing as much information to the public as possible when the review is complete — although there’s still no timeline for when such a review will even begin.

“There’s a lot of the review which I think will be of benefit to government and to the operators of the system, in this case … the City of Iqaluit,” Main said.

WSP Canada, a water engineering firm, was hired to manage and remove the fuel contamination. It shared photos of the removal of an underground storage tank (UST) that contaminated the ‘void,’ and the city’s drinking water, with fuel back in October 2021. (WSP)

“But in terms of the public I think it will give them a better understanding of all the different moving parts, and I hope, help to reestablish confidence in the quality of the water here in Iqaluit.”

Main reiterated his department’s stance from December, saying no review would start until Iqaluit’s water treatment plant is fully repaired, and the city is off the temporary bypass system.

From there, the government still needs to put the review out to tender to find someone to do it, and come up with a scope for the review. Although much of the paperwork has already been drafted, it still needs to be looked over by the City of Iqaluit and the department of Community and Government Services (CGS), who will also participate in the review.

“In terms of why we haven’t started the review yet, it’s just a reflection of the amount of time it has taken to rectify the issues at the water treatment plant,” Main said.

Main’s staff met with city officials on Jan. 20 regarding the work to return the water treatment plant to service. In a statement, a spokesperson for the City of Iqaluit said a service plan was provided to the GN, and the city was working with the government “to satisfy items based on comments derived from this service plan.”

“Once the agreement is finalized between both parties we can start the work, but we cannot provide a timeline at this moment as we still have continued dialogue with the GN in order to satisfy their comments,” the spokesperson said.

‘A public-facing element’

Main also committed to publicly releasing as much of the review as possible, though he said there may be elements which might not be publicized.

“Whether the entire review will be made public or not, or whether there will be two versions of a report, that has yet to be determined by the partners,” Main said.

“But I can say there will be a public-facing element to this because that public confidence in the regulatory system as well as the operation of the water treatment plant — that is an important reason for why we want to do this review.”

WSP Canada, a water engineering firm, was hired to manage and remove the fuel contamination. It shared photos of the removal of an underground storage tank (UST) that contaminated the ‘void,’ and the city’s drinking water, with fuel back in October 2021. (WSP)

Main said that any information that can be released under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, will be.

“There may be some issues that are best dealt with inside of government,” Main said.

“For example, it could be things that involve interpersonal disagreements that took place. I don’t see much benefit in making those types of issues public if they’re pertaining to individuals.”

Emergency response review underway

In addition to the department of health’s review, CGS is taking its own to look into the emergency response.

The review is mandatory because a state of emergency was declared — which saw the Canadian Armed Forces fly in with a mobile reverse osmosis unit.

The review is already underway, said James Mearns, the territory’s director of emergency management, with consulting firm DPRA leading the work.

“Ours is [focused on] the actions and steps taken by the GN, the City of Iqaluit and other partners in dealing with the emergency itself,” said Mearns.

Residents line up to fill containers with potable water in Iqaluit on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. The Nunavut government had declared a 14-day state of emergency in Iqaluit after water in the capital was found to be tainted with hydrocarbons. (Emma Tranter/The Canadian Press)

Mearns said the review will be available to the Legislative Assembly, which will decide whether to make it public.

Asked whether this review will restore the public’s confidence, Mearns said the primary goal is to help the territory understand the successes and failures in responding to the emergency.

“I think it would assist [in restoring public confidence], he said. “I think it will assist us if anything else happens in the territory that we have to deal with.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Thousands of plastic bottles from Iqaluit’s water crisis to be turned into clothes, CBC News

United States: Climate change is worsening water scarcity in rural Alaska says study, Eye on the Arctic.

Nick Murray, CBC News

For more news from Canada visit CBC News.

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