Tlicho community of Edzo waiting weeks for frozen water lines to thaw

Kelsey Mantla can’t predict how long she’ll have running water for; but she knows how challenging it is to go without, especially with four young kids.

The 200-person Tłı̨chǫ community of Edzo, Northwest Territories has been dealing with water disruptions from failing equipment since mid-January.

“There was a problem in Edzo where there was a leakage coming from somewhere but they [the hamlet] didn’t know where from so they had to turn the water off again,” Mantla said. “For a week there was only a little bit of water coming out, but the water was yellow and sandy.”

She said her common-law phoned the hamlet to report a broken water line behind Chief Jimmy Bruno school.

In the meantime, raw sewage came up through and filled her bathtub and toilet for days on end and the stack of laundry grew higher.

“I was crying like literally crying for help to have a safe place for my kids. Because the smell stunk, and they were crying to use the bathroom,” she told APTN News.

Manta said she contacted her community social worker numerous times but came up short on solutions.

“The community government expected me to jump from house to house or stay with family members but with COVID-19 you can’t really do that. I’m sure there’s lots of rooms at the hotel and they could put people up until this is completely done,” Mantla said.

As the community’s reservoir runs dry, she said she’s repeatedly paid out of pocket to have her pipes thawed.

“Together in a month I think we paid close to a thousand dollars just to get them to thaw the sewer and our water, and we’re already struggling as-is for diapers and groceries and bills.

Eleasha Chocolate Smith of Edzo, Northwest Territories has been living with water disruptions for nearly two weeks. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN.

Every few days Eleasha Chocolate Smith drives an hour south to Yellowknife so her household of eight has clean drinking and cooking water.

“I noticed three weeks ago that the water was kind of brown,” Chocolate Smith said. “It was that time I didn’t give my boys a bath for six days, I didn’t like the water.”

Chocolate Smith said many Elders in her community are without water, including the those who live at Jimmy Eramus Senior’s home.

“I was talking to them at the friendship center and some of them are using bottled water to flush the toilet and to wash their face. It’s a big issue. Especially, for the older people too who can’t lift heavy water

APTN News spoke with various community members who said aging infrastructure is a longstanding issue.

“Around this time of year, it’s usually like this until the river begins to thaw out, that’s when it comes back. It’s crazy it gets like this, but there’s not much you can do about it,” she said.

Edzo takes water from the west channel, Great Slave Lake and brings it into the pump house where the water flows through pipes to houses in the community.

On Jan. 21, the Tłı̨chǫ government told residents the treatment plant’s backwash pump had failed and asked residents to conserve water while trucks hauled water from the nearby community of Behchokǫ̀ to restock Edzo’s reservoir.

According to the local government, a replacement part was shipped from Edmonton and residents called in to have their lines thawed.

That’s when residents turned on their taps to find brown water.

“The reservoir was draining fast and that caused some turbulence and its disturbance caused discolouration of water,” said Behchokǫ̀ Chief Clifford Daniels.

Community members are living through the effects of deteriorating infrastructure.

Daniels said funding to the community government is necessary to pay for the millions in upgrades needed for the system which was built in the 1970’s.

“We have brought it up at our community government council meeting, this is something we seriously need to look at and possibly reprioritize our strategic plan,” he said.

Daniels noted the territorial government is aware of the issue and the community government may need to explore a phased plan for gradual upgrades.

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