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Letter: Sewage Lagoons for Dawson?

Sewage Lagoons for Dawson?

It appears the Yukon government is pushing forward with building sewage lagoons to replace the failed sewage treatment plant they built not too long ago.

I believe they chose sewage lagoons as they are typically cost effective to build and operate and do work in Canada’s far north. What I don’t believe is that they have put much in the way of thought into this decision and have not done all the appropriate “due diligence” that should be done when determining “best options”.

It is a fact that lagoons work in extreme conditions such as the north, so should be suitable in that regard, but it is also a fact that they produce methane and the following are some interesting facts we need to know when thinking about constructing a new sewage lagoon system:

1. Methane is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Over the last two centuries, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled, largely due to human-related activities.

2. Cutting methane emissions is the fastest opportunity we have to immediately slow the rate of global warming, even as we decarbonize our energy systems.

3. It’s an opportunity we can’t afford to miss. Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere. Even though CO2 has a longer-lasting effect, methane sets the pace for warming in the near term. At least 25 per cent of today’s global warming is driven by methane from human actions. Atmospheric concentration of methane is increasing faster now than at any time since the 1980s. (https://www.edf.org/climate/methane-crucial-opportunity-climate-fight)

4. Canada has signed on to the Global Methane Pledge along with more than 100 other countries. What Canada, “we”, agreed to was to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30 per cent by 2030. (https://www.globalmethanepledge.org)

5. Canada signed the United Nations Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 agreeing to “substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius while pursuing efforts to limit the increase even further to 1.5 degrees”. (https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/paris-agreement#)

So, Canada has agreed on an international stage, to work towards reducing green house gases, of which methane is one of the worst culprits and yet Yukon is pressing forward to provide Dawson with methane producing sewage lagoons in complete contravention of Canada’s commitments internationally. Are we good with this?

It gets worse.

· Where will they locate the lagoons? Upstream of Dawson’s drinking water, of course, just as they developed an industrial park in our drinking water. Did I miss the consultation meetings on this? Are we good with this?

· Will there ever be a spillage? “No” they say, while still trying to fix the effluent line from Whitehorse to its lagoons on the other side of the Yukon River; a line that broke and ran (is still running) raw sewage into the Yukon River for months. So do we believe there won’t be “an incident”?

· And what are the ground conditions between any upstream sewage lagoon site and Dawson? Porous. For the most part dredge tailings with a fully functional subterranean water system that includes most of the valley, “rim to rim”, so virtually nothing to filter the effluent all the way to our deep well drinking water supply just downstream from the mouth of the Klondike River. And so, when “the incident” happens it won’t pollute our drinking water, right?

· How will they get the effluent from Dawson to the lagoons? By pumping, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Lagoons are typically cost effective, but not when coupled with 24/365 pumping costs. But lagoons are the most cost-effective option for Dawson because why? What were the cost analysis of the other options YG looked at like? Should we perhaps be able to have a look at the cost analysis YG did for all the other options it looked at?

· Should there be/will there be a redundancy of pumps and pipelines? There should be a built-in redundancy so the system won’t fail as it has in Whitehorse, but will there be? Probably not as the cost would be prohibitive, just as it was in Whitehorse. So if this ill thought out project proceeds to fruition Dawson will end up with a single line that will eventually fail, in one way or another, at which point we will either have no ability to evacuate our sewage or will have to dump it untreated into the Yukon River, just like what happened in Whitehorse and then address any drinking water contamination that may result. Are we good with this?

· Size of lagoons versus operations and maintenance costs. Because Dawson uses more water/capita than most communities, as a result of bleeders to keep lines from freezing, the proposed lagoons would either have to be overly large or aerated. It may be difficult to find enough real estate for un-aerated lagoons so it is highly probable they will move towards aerated ones which drives the operating costs way up. YG is not going to be footing the bill to run these lagoons, the burden will be on Dawsonites. Are we OK with this?

So Dawsonites, does this new lagoon project YG is shoving down our throats as a “take it or leave it”, sound good to you or is this looking like yet another of YG’s poorly conceived projects that we are going to have to suffer with? I, for one, have run out of patience with the lack of thought that is more often the hallmark of YG’s Dawson projects and that is why I am speaking out.

On this project and all other YG Dawson projects going forward, Dawsonites need to be far more involved in the decision making, so let’s put a hold on the lagoon concept until YG shows us all the options they considered and the associated cost analyses. If they have the information they should be able to forward it to us; if they don’t have it, well then “Houston, we have a problem”.

Greg Hakonson

A Dawson resident with reasons to be concerned