Drinking Water and Wastewater in Pangnirtung

Being that my background is in water resource engineering and water management I have paid special attention to water while I have been in Pangnirtung. I have been working on a drainage assessment for the community and been lucky enough to help out on some drainage projects that have arisen during my time here. One thing I have become especially fascinated with is how the drinking water delivery and wastewater services operate here in Pangnirtung.

Common methods of drinking water and wastewater delivery that are used in more temperate regions are not suitable in many arctic and subarctic communities such as Pangnirtung (Daley, Castleden et al. 2015) Permafrost and extremely cold temperatures for long periods of the year render underground piped water systems, which are used to distribute water to homes and buildings in the majority of urban areas of southern Canada, unsuitable in these regions (DW 1996). Individual water wells and buried septic systems, which are common in rural areas in southern Canada, are also unusable in many of these regions due to the permafrost (DW 1996). With underground systems unusable many arctic and subarctic communities, such as Pangnirtung, rely on trucked water delivery to deliver water to dwellings and businesses within communities (Daley, Castleden et al. 2015).

The community of Pangnirtung is located along a narrow stretch of coastal plain in the Pangnirtung Fjord of off Cumberland Sound on Eastern Baffin Island (Spinney and Pennesi 2013). The communities sole source of water is the Duval River which is a glacier fed river originating in two lakes in the mountains above town (Spinney and Pennesi 2013). The river runs down off the mountains and right through the community emptying into Pangnirtung Fjord and dividing the community in two. The Duval River does not flow during the winter months so a reservoir was constructed to store water from the river during the winter months (Trepanier 2015). During the summer months water is pumped from the Duval River into the water reservoir so water it is available throughout the entire year (Trepanier 2015).

The water in the reservoir is treated with chlorine to remove any microbial contaminants and then transferred into the water delivery trucks(Daley, Castleden et al. 2014). The trucks then deliver water directly to homes through a pipe in the side of every building. In a fairly simple process the driver pulls the truck up to the house, connects the water hose with a specialized nozzle and fills the water tank with an overflow valve letting the driver know when the tank is full.

The water is used by the dwelling and then stored in a wastewater container which is usually located under the house. Specially designed wastewater trucks come and pump out the wastewater to remove it from the dwellings. Pangnirtung is located in a fjord and space is relatively limited around the community as mountains surround the town (Spinney and Pennesi 2013). This means that space for treatment of wastewater in sewage lagoons or treatment wetlands is not available in Pangnirtung. To overcome this a state of the art wastewater treatment plant was constructed in Pangnirtung which treats wastewater created by Pangnirtung residents (Trepanier 2015). The construction of the plant was a multiyear process that involved many different government agencies, private contractors and community members (Trepanier 2015). It resulted in one of the highest rated wastewater treatment plants in Northern Canada (Trepanier 2015).

Water delivery and wastewater trucks operate 7 days a week in Pangnirtung and the hamlet staff work very hard to ensure all the people of Pangnirtung have water and have room in their wastewater tanks. From a more personal note I thought that being able to see how much water you have, and more importantly how much water you use was really interesting. If we were low on water sometimes you had to postpone a shower or do laundry on another day and I thought it was a great reminder that the water we get in our homes is not an inexhaustible resource and that there is a lot of work that goes into drinking water and wastewater delivery services.


Daley, K., et al. (2014). “Municipal water quantities and health in Nunavut households: an exploratory case study in Coral Harbour, Nunavut, Canada.” Int J Circumpolar Health 73.

Daley, K., et al. (2015). “Water systems, sanitation, and public health risks in remote communities: Inuit resident perspectives from the Canadian Arctic.” Social science & medicine (1982) 135: 124-132.

DW, S. (1996). “Cold regions utilities monograph. 2nd ed.” American Society of Civil Engineers: pp. 1.1–1.6.

Spinney, J. A. and K. E. Pennesi (2013). “When the river started underneath the land: Social constructions of a ‘severe’ weather event in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, Canada.” Polar Rec. Polar Record 49(4): 362-372.

Trepanier, S. (2015). Water Delivery Discussion, Hamlet of Pangnirtung.


Shots from Around Pangnirtung Fjord

As I mentioned in my last post we haven’t been able to get out into Cumberland Sound this July. This means the past weekends have been spent boating, camping, fishing and clam digging around Pangnirtung Fjord.

Here are some pictures I took while we were out.


The Summer Ice of Cumberland Sound

When I arrived in Pang in early May the majority of the ice in Cumberland Sound was breaking up and melting. However, this year after all the ice in the Sound melted strong winds at the end of June blew multi-year sea ice into Cumberland Sound from the open ocean. This ice is very blue in colour, very thick and takes a long time to melt. People in town say we need a north or northwest wind to blown the ice away but these winds have yet to arrive. This has meant that since late June Cumberland Sound has been almost completely blocked full of this multi-year sea ice. Pang fjord has been relatively free but depending on the tides and winds the ice has been coming into the fjord as well. Below is a satellite image that was recently taken showing the ice in the Sound.


The ice has begun to cause some issues for the people of Pangnirtung and many people (myself included) hope that the winds change and blow the ice away.

Many people I have spoken to in town have places where they go to fish and hunt all around Cumberland Sound. Many of these locations are the traditional hunting and fishing areas of certain families and many people I know grew up in camps around the fjord until their families moved into Pangnirtung. In the summer people go back to these areas with their families to hunt and fish but the ice this year has made this almost impossible. Early in July there is usually a Beluga Whale hunt that has yet to happen this year due to ice as well. I have also wanted to go camp at one of the river mouths out in the Sound to do some fishing for char but have been unable to do so yet. The ice has held fast at the end of Pang Fjord and although there has been some movement getting out into the Sound has been very difficult.

This has meant that there has been a lot of action in the fjord with many people camping and boating in the area as it is the only open water around. This year has also been very slow fishing in the area as and many people are blaming it on the ice. I am also taking this approach when I go fishing and come back empty handed ha-ha.

Not only is the ice stopping people from getting out into the Sound but it is stopping ships from getting in as well. There were a couple cruise ships that usually come into Pang each summer that couldn’t make it this year and the sea lifts have been delayed until the ice moves out. The sea lift’s re huge cargo ships that bring in a lot of important cargo to the community and with the sealift delayed much of the construction in town, among other things, may also be delayed. The forecast is calling for a change in wind direction so hopefully the Sound opens up soon so the ships can get in and the people from Pang can get out.

However, as much as the sea ice has been a challenge and it seems all negative there is one positive aspect of the sea ice; it is amazingly beautiful.

Snapshots of Early Summer

It has been a busy couple weeks and I thought I would upload a couple pictures from the past weeks of early summer

Early in July we had a little stretch of rough weather where the winds were quite high. Cumberland Sound has been full of offshore ice since late June and the mix of open water, ice and warmer summer air masses can create high winds. The wind comes off the mountains, funnels down the fjord and picks up speed. Although the winds were high the air was quite warm but planes were still not landing. The winds would gust off the mountains and pick up water from the fjord creating mini twisters and sheets of wind and water. I have attached a couple pictures of this below.

After the weather cleared some friends and I camped across the fjord for a weekend and had a great time! We did lots of hiking, fishing and enjoyed the beautiful surroundings. We also learned how to make a fire out of the bushes that blackberries grow on (although the blackberries are just forming). We made tea from burning the bushes which gave the tea a delicious smoky flavour. I have attached some photos below.

After a couple weeks of foggy and windy weather we have had beautiful sunny weather which has been very much enjoyed. The Duval River runs off of the mountains behind town into the fjord and also supplies the community’s drinking water. A group of friends and I hiked up the river valley on a beautiful sunny day. I have shared some pictures of the hike and river valley below.

Floating Sculptures in a Mirror Sea

One of the things I have enjoyed most about this blog is having a venue to share photos and many of my posts have been based on pictures of the beautiful landscapes surrounding Pangnirtung. However, I have also met tons of great people, been lucky enough to attend a wedding, helped out with several community events, barbeques and feasts all of which would also be great topics for the blog. While I have been attending these events I have decided to just enjoy myself and not take pictures. I did take tons of pictures at the wedding (which was a great time) but they were for the bride and groom and their families not my blog lol. The following post is another one devoted to the beautiful environment around me but I just wanted to mention that there is a lot more to Pangnirtung than the beautiful surroundings I have been focusing on in my blog; there is also a great community of friendly, welcoming people.

Now on to the blog at hand. I was lucky enough to tag along with a friend going out seal hunting on Canada day and although we didn’t get any seals it was an awesome day out on the water! The ice in Cumberland Sound and Pangnirtung Fjord has broken up but the high winds in the past weeks has blown huge amounts of offshore ice back into the area. Pangnirtung Fjord is still open but there are huge sheets of ice out in Cumberland Sound which has made it quite hard to travel very far as the ice is blocking the way in most directions. The offshore ice that has blown in is strikingly blue and still quite thick.

We cruised out to the mouth of the fjord with fog rolling around us until we hit a massive sheet of ice that blocked our way. We cruised up the edge of the ice and a couple harp seals checked us out as we drove by in the boat; ringed seals is what we were after though. We also saw lots of eider ducks, geese, arctic loons and seagulls but most were fairly far off and not within camera range. The water was as calm as glass as there was very little wind which gave it a beautiful mirror effect. The combination of the calm water, blue sky, rolling fog and countless sculptures of ice around us made for an absolutely beautiful setting. I was very grateful to get out and enjoy this beautiful environment and I hope you enjoy the pictures below.

Summer Solstice

A group friends and I got a birds-eye view of the ice break up in the fjord on the summer solstice when we went out for a hike up the hills behind town. We thought it would be cool to go for a late night hike on the longest day of the year. It was a bit overcast when we set out but given that weather in the days before had been very windy and rainy we were quite happy. We walked up the hills behind town and climbed higher and higher up the side of the fjord. Again I was blown away but the sheer scale of the landscape and the difficulty in assessing distance. From town the hills seemed quite close but as we walked up they were much further than I expected (although the hiking was still very easy). It was really neat to see the fjord from higher up especially with the mix of ice and open water.

We had a great hike and just as I was walking in my door to go home around 2:30 am the clouds began to break and some blue sky began to show. I decided to keep going and hiked up another smaller hill right behind town. As I did the wind died right down to nothing and the sun began to come out. It was very quiet in town and I sat on the top of the hill and watched the sun come out from behind the clouds while listening to the flow of the streams around me and the birds chirping. It was really peaceful and a moment I enjoyed very much. After about an hour the wind picked up again and the clouds moved back in. I walked back home thankful for the peaceful break in the weather and the chance to get a glimpse of the sun during the longest night of the year.


My last blog was about the “moving siku” and the ice within Pangnirtung Fjord. The ice is now breaking up and it is quite the impressive process. The first part of the ice to break up in the fjord has been the tidal ice in the area along shore. My last blog showed large ice blocks strewn throughout the tidal zone which are very beautiful. The tides form these ice sculptures in the fall and winter and the tides also break them apart in the spring. It happened gradually at first but all at once it seemed all the ice blocks broke loose from the moving of the tides. Small pools of water built within the tidal ice and then one day as the tide came in the harbour all the ice broke apart and was floating around. Once the chunks are broken apart they then drift about with the tides and wind. I could not believe how big some these chunks of ice were and it was pretty impressive to see these huge blocks of ice moving so much. When the tides would go out huge chucks of ice would be strewn everywhere throughout the tidal zone. When the tide would come back in all of the ice blocks would shift about with the currents and winds. The ice was moving around so much it almost seemed as if it were alive.

When the tidal ice first broke the ice in the middle of the fjord was still solid and people would hop from floating ice block to floating ice block to get out to the flat ice to go seal hunting. I attempted to get out to the flat sea ice with a friend to get to his snowmobile which was parked out there. Needless to say it was a short trip as I got 30 feet from shore and dunked most of my leg haha. The ease with which he skipped from ice block to ice block was really quite impressive and I decided to watch him go the rest of the way out to the deeper water rather than risk taking a chilly dip in the ocean surrounded by huge ice blocks haha.

The combination of ice and open water makes fog a very common occurrence this time year in Pang. It could be a beautiful clear day and fog can roll in quite quickly and last for hours and even days. It has been quite foggy in the past weeks and it has made flying in and out Pang quite hard. I have talked to many people recently who have either been delayed getting in or flying out for up to a week at a time. Seeing the planes come in and out is pretty cool as the airport is right in town and I am going to try and get some more pictures of planes landing and taking off over the summer.

Another big factor in the break-up of the ice are the winds. Pangnirtung is known for high winds and apparently they often occur in the spring time. Surprisingly the winds come from within the fjord and come off of the mountains. From what I have been told the fjord acts like a funnel and as the winds decent from the mountains they pick up speed. The combination of the winds and tides can quickly change the sea ice in a matter of hours and it is very impressive to see. The ice is still changing every day and it will be interesting to see how to shifts and moves until it is all gone in midsummer.