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Whale Cove struggles to regain potable water

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services
Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Whale Cove remains under a boil water advisory after unacceptable levels of coliform bacteria were found in water delivery trucks.

NNSL photo/graphic

A boil water advisory in Whale Cove began July 24. The hamlet has since changed procedures to ensure treated water sits in the truck for 20 minutes before delivery and chlorine has been increased to match the water volume. - photo courtesy of Mike Richards

"It wasn't E. coli," said senior administrative officer Mike Richards of the advisory, which has been in place since July 24. "E. coli has never been identified. It's just a coliform growth which are a natural growth with algae and things. If it was E. coli, we would really worry."

During a boil water advisory, all water used for drinking, preparing infant formulas, juices and ice cubes, washing fruits and vegetables, cooking and tooth-brushing must be brought to a rolling boil for a minimum of one full minute.

Richards adds the water source is not under threat. Nor was anyone in the community made ill.

"The boil water advisory wasn't because of illness," said Richards. "It was strictly because the person who took water samples for the Government of Nunavut was doing his job and the health inspector caught it right away."

Everyone was doing their jobs, he says.

"The problem we had, apparently, was that the drivers shock chlorinated. But then it requires a 20-minute retention time and they were delivering the water too fast. So now we have to say you have to leave the water in the truck for at least 20 minutes for the chlorine to do its job."

Shock chlorination means putting a lot of chlorine in the water to kill any bacteria or organics.

A final sample was being sent out July 31, after a sample returned showed continued unacceptable levels of the bacteria.

"But the engineer was here and we were pretty comfortable that we had shock chlorinated the truck more intensively and resolved the issue. Now, some of the procedures we've done have actually been amended to ensure our trucks are compliant."

The foreman, says Richards, went on the radio and explained the situation to the community.

"And the people seemed to co-operate and take things in stride. The health centre was well-advised. They phoned around and let everybody know. Once people are aware of how to deal with it, they're understanding."

Richards stresses the situation isn't a crisis, however, he pointed out the hamlet doesn't clean every tank in town as most houses belong to the Housing Corporation.

"But the water delivered will be potable water."

Richards says the hamlet cleans its tanks and housing has a program to clean those tanks. The schools also get regular maintenance.

"I know years ago that was one of my issues is the schools never cleaned their tanks. But they do now, I understand, on a regular basis."

Richards says he's impressed with how the regulators worked with the hamlet.

"They are the ones leading the whole issue and helping us to resolve it."

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