Yes, you read correctly. We ran out of water early this morning. Imagine taking a nice long hot shower, you have shampoo in your hair and… the water stops running!! Welcome to the north! This has not happened to Sophia yet (crossing fingers) in the six years she has lived in Nunavut (both Cambridge Bay and Baker Lake) but it has happened to Rob on a number of occasions when he lived in Cape Dorset.
Managing sewage in Canada’s Arctic communities is very different than in the more populated southern regions of Canada or in North America. The cold climate and permafrost prevent the installation and use of regular underground pipes for transporting sewage from homes and buildings to a central sewage treatment plant. As a result homes and businesses in Nunavut and the Arctic often rely on trucked systems for delivery of water and wastewater disposal. Homes and other buildings are equipped with two tanks; one for drinking/potable water and the other for wastewater. The collected sewage is transported to a sewage lagoon for treatment. The sewage lagoons are usually small isolated lakes, are designed to hold a full year’s worth of sewage and are frozen eight to nine months of the year. But they still smell horrible when you walk by one of these lagoons. During the summer months (which is approximately two to three months long), the contents of the lagoon thaw and seep into downstream lakes, ocean or a natural tundra wetland. The sewage is not treated and these types of wastewater management systems are “passive” as they do not require chemicals or mechanical equipment as part of their operation. The advantage of these types of systems and the reason why they are used in small Arctic communities (ranging from 100 to 5000 people) are because they are simple to operate and maintain and do not require energy input or the use of mechanical equipment, except the sewage trucks. For more information on studies on treatment wetlands, click here.
We have a schedule set up with the Hamlet of Baker Lake to have water delivered 3 times a week and our sewage pumped out 3 times a week (our water tank is about 650 gallons). We don’t think we had any water delivered since Monday and we did several loads of laundry, which led to us running out of water. Luckily, we keep 2-five gallon water jugs on hand for those special days when we are without water and have to wait for water delivery, until then my hot shower will have to wait. The longest we’ve had to wait for water is five long days. There are a few communities in Nunavut (Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit) that use a ‘utilidor’ system that runs above ground to transport water and sewage in heated, insulated pipes.
For heat, diesel fuel is transported by ship during our sealift season and is then delivered by truck to homes and business and is used for heating buildings in the winter (did you read the part where it said winter lasts 8 months?). Diesel fuel is also used for heavy equipment, and the production of electricity (generators).