"Yesterday we had to turn people away and it was heartbreaking. Some women asked what they should do about their babies. It was probably my worst day of being mayor."

The city of Iqaluit in Nunavut, located on Baffin Island has roughly 9,000 citizens, according to Mayor Kenny Bell.

"It's a pretty dire need right now," says Mayor Kenny Bell. "We found the smell of petroleum products in one of our clear wells which is a typically sealed unit, that holds treated water before it goes into our reservoirs. It's obviously very serious and now the public is without drinking water."

Bell says citizens of Iqaluit starting calling in complaints about their water having a fuel-like smell as of October 2. 

"The city was testing the water on a regular basis and they found what they believe to be the problem on this past Tuesday."

That's when Bell informed the people that they shouldn't be drinking the tap water any longer. 

"We are still waiting for the test results to come in. We don't have laboratories here in Nunavut, we're just too small. This was a specialized test that had to be sent to another lab in Ottawa and it takes about 48 hours to analyze the test, about five days in total to get back to us."

The government of Nunavut has started to fly in 80,000 litres of bottled water as of Thursday, but it's not enough.

"We've had a couple of corporate donations of water that is being delivered here today and throughout the weekend. The city is undertaking deliveries from one of our rivers, the Sylvia Grenell river. It's pristine water but at the same time we're asking people to boil the water just to be safe."

The river water is being distributed at a few locations in Iqaluit. People can bring jugs if they have, but the stores ran out of jugs once citizens found out about the situation earlier in the week. On Monday, for a citizen to buy a one-litre jug of water cost them $9. Bell went into the store today and a 12-pack is on sale for $15.

"Yesterday we handed out approximately 20,000 litres of water. We were set to operate from 3:30 to 8:00 pm. We handed it out within the first hour in two different locations. We had to turn away people."

The city has roughly 9,000 people according to Bell. Another obstacle is that no community in Nunavut has roads going in or out. Everything must be flown in. 

"We rely on the airline to bring in our much-needed food and other personal items, so it's a big juggling mess."

Potential Solutions

"The city of Iqaluit, the government of Nunavut, as well as the government of Canada, are all working on identifying and fixing our treatment centre. We're trying to isolate the tanks, there are two sister tanks. Hopefully, we'll be able to provide water to the citizens soon."

If that doesn't work, Bell says they'll bypass the treatment centre altogether and go right into our holding tanks. People would be asked to boil that water before drinking it as well. 

"Right now we're living off river water and relying on some bottled water deliveries. But we don't have enough city employees, we don't have enough water trucks, or people to deliver water. It's a nightmare."

Iqaluit gets two planes and one cargo jet a day, and they are all hoping to bring as much water as possible, along with food.

"This water crisis has been going on for five years as our supply doesn't regenerate properly because of climate change and our dam is just too small," says Bell.