Nunavut mayor wants more than a Band-Aid solution after big sewage spill

·2 min read
Rankin Inlet Mayor Harry Towtongie says this week's big sewage spill in his community underlines a big issue— the need to upgrade the aging utilidor system. (Matisse Harvey/CBC News - image credit)
Rankin Inlet Mayor Harry Towtongie says this week's big sewage spill in his community underlines a big issue— the need to upgrade the aging utilidor system. (Matisse Harvey/CBC News - image credit)

That was no small sewage spill that took place Monday evening in Rankin Inlet, the hamlet has learned to its dismay.

Nunavut's Department of Community and Government Services (CGS) has confirmed the volume of the spill: 331,500 litres.

On Tuesday, the department issued a news release asking people to steer clear of the waterfront and area around the Nuvuk lift station, located across from the health centre.

Harry Towtongie, mayor of Rankin Inlet, said the issue is "more than just a spill."

"It's really bad now," he said.

The size of the spill would be equivalent to up to 100,000 toilet flushes, as some toilet models flush three litres at a time, or the capacity of about 279 wastewater truck reservoirs.

Towtongie said he is frustrated because he's been telling the Government of Nunavut for years that the town's aging water and sewage system need an overhaul.

"I am not trying to sound hopeless," Towtongie said with a sigh. "But everything that happens is done on an emergency basis and it's frustrating."

Blockage caused by rocks

Suleikha Duale, a communications specialist with CGS, said the spill resulted from a blockage caused by rocks in a force main — a pressurized sewer pipe that conveys wastewater under pressure — at the Nuvuk lift station.

"We are currently investigating how the rocks entered the Nuvuk lift station," she said.

Meanwhile, people in Rankin Inlet, are still being asked to avoid the waterfront and the area around the lift station.

The news release earlier this week noted sewage and wastewater can cause illness through bacteria, fungus and viruses.

"Coming into contact with or breathing in odours from sewage can expose a person to bacteria, viruses and parasites that are harmful to health and may cause disease," the news release stated.

Towtongie said it's too late now to worry about what the spill has done to the water quality.

He'd like to see action to replace the utilidor system in his growing community of more than 3,000 people.

Sections of the utilidor, nearly all pipes laid underground, are now about 40 years old, he said.