A First Nation on Vancouver Island is grappling with a loss of potable water after something — possibly a tsunami surge — damaged its underwater supply line on Monday.
Ucluelet First Nation declared a state of emergency this week, banning the use of water for everything except flushing toilets, after a barge towing a log boom severed the line in the inlet between Ucluelet and the Indigenous community of Hitacu.
“It’s challenging but we’re working through it,” said Ucluelet First Nation president Charles McCarthy. “Citizens are being informed about our situation as it progresses.”
Right now, a tsunami surge following the violent eruption of an underwater volcano near the Tonga Islands is being investigated as a possible cause.
“Our tide went up probably by about three feet … and the restricted flow or whatever increased the pressure on the line and dislocated it from its anchoring, and the booms actually pulled out the line when it was probably just under the surface,” said McCarthy.
Last week, a tsunami advisory was put into place across four zones of B.C., including parts of Vancouver Island and the North Coast. An undersea volcano erupted near the Pacific nation of Tonga on Saturday, sending large tsunami waves crashing across the shore and people rushing to higher ground.
The disaster cause major damage and has left at least three people dead.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada says it’s still analyzing data collected at the Ucluelet Harbour’s out tide gauge, and is not yet able to confirm whether the tsunami surge caused the Ucluelet water line to dislodge from the sea floor.
“We’re really looking forward to getting that data, which may give us an understanding how violent it was down there and if it contributed to this pipe that pretty much lost some of its anchoring system,” District of Ucluelet Mayor Mayco Noel said.
“There’s many, many videos on Facebook here how active this inlet was on Saturday morning … It was going from high tide to low tide within 30 to 45 minutes at some times, there was a massive amount of water, we had eddies and whirlpools at some of the docks here.”
Roughly 250 First Nation members are now using bottled water and trucks have been filling the community’s water tower to provide a backup supply. The state of emergency can’t be lifted until that system is flushed and tested and the water is declared potable.
“We’re not allowed to use it to brush our teeth or take showers, we can’t wash any fruits or vegetables,” said Hitacu resident Evelyn Charlie. “It was very stressful at first, I have two children at home, so worrying about their safety.”
In response to the line break, the West Coast Motel has offered its facilities so affected residents can shower. Charlie said that kindness has “helped a great deal.”
“It has helped their mental state to have their hygiene taken care of,” she said.
According to the District of Ucluelet, divers removed 300 metres of damaged water line on Tuesday and repairs are now underway.
Water samples have been sent to Vancouver for analysis, said McCarthy, who hopes to have the line hooked up again by Monday or Tuesday next week. The line will need to be purged and retested after that and it’s possible the First Nation could be on a boil water advisory by mid-next week, so water can be used for cooking and showers.
The entire experience has been eye-opening, said nation members.
“It definitely makes you feel grateful for the things you do have,” said Charlie.
“Simple things that you take for granted … you can see where your vulnerabilities are, right?” McCarthy added.
With files from The Canadian Press