Letter to the Editor

Intrepid Keevil Re Brent McDonald’s January 7 letter ‘Reporter evil’: I wish to speak up in defence of Yukon News reporter…

Intrepid Keevil

Re Brent McDonald’s January 7 letter ‘Reporter evil’:

I wish to speak up in defence of Yukon News reporter Genesee Keevil.

Based upon my personal observation of Keevil’s journalistic output since she moved to the Yukon, I judge her to be a highly talented and ‘gutsy’ reporter.

The Yukon News seems to have a knack for attracting up-and-coming young reporters, and unlike some other Yukon media sources, the News pays heed to the “comfort the afflicted/afflict the comforted” role that responsible journalists are supposed to serve.

Keevil has done some vital and excellent reporting about Yukon politics, about the many social ills that plague our society and she has also done important writing about humane issues such as the tragedies which crop up on a regular basis because of the Yukon’s abysmal animal-protection laws.

She has no fear of authority and does not pull any punches in her reporting.

With regard to the ‘evil’ tag bestowed upon Keevil, although I detect from time to time her playing a role as ‘devil’s advocate,’ her intent can hardly be considered evil, and good for her for shaking up complacent Yukoners, who only wish to hear about the Yukon as a ‘land of milk and honey.’

I read the article McDonald was complaining about and did not see anything wrong with it.

One Dawson-area resident, despite the small-town political costs, spoke up and defended her rights (and spoke up on behalf of unnamed others) as a citizen in response to a proposed use of a neighbouring property which she felt was inharmonious with the use and enjoyment of her own property.

It just so happened that this proposed use involved the production of alcohol. Is there a critical shortage of booze in the Yukon?

Well, I would say apparently not, upon reading that 30 Whitehorse drivers were charged with impaired driving during the holiday season (and Dawson City has no shortage of its own alcohol-related problems).

We in the Yukon are fortunate to have a brave and intrepid reporter like Keevil.

She has been building up a considerable and respectable journalistic resume in her time here, and I suspect that if she ever returned south, she would be showered with offers of employment in whichever branch of journalism she would choose.

Terry Cumming


City haste over water waste

The proposed budget includes water metering for all residential homes in Whitehorse.

The purpose is to charge residents for the water used.

The decision is said to have come out of the sustainability charette.

Water conservation is a complex issue, within which water pricing is only one aspect.

It merits at least a four-day discussion of its own.

Charettes are described as brainstorming processes, and so I wouldn’t expect a strategy as multi-faceted as demand-side water conservation calls for to emerge from one.

It’s clear that no such strategy was achieved.

The city has one key statement to offer to support this proposal: charging people for the water they use makes them use less water.

The view among advocates for price structuring based on volume (and it’s not uniformly accepted as gospel that it leads to less water use — Flushing the Future isn’t the only study out there) is that pricing is not a silver bullet, but needs to be part of an integrated package of policies, including public education, regulatory tools such as requiring low flow plumbing fixtures for new construction, reclaiming, reusing, and recycling water, water audits, water loss management (leaks) and providing modest subsidies as positive incentives.

It’s been said by experts that the real objective is not water reduction, but sustainable water use.

What is the city’s objective? There’s a lack of clarity about what Whitehorse hopes to achieve, beyond installing meters with the intention of charging for water.

It has been noted that the Yukon suffers no shortage of water.

It’s also been noted that the infrastructure to treat and distribute water is expensive; yet this budget proposes more expenditures on capital projects for water in addition to the meters, so that no link between the two is being made.

Just recently new pumps were approved for Copper Ridge, with no indication of how the projected needs were calculated, that is, before or after targets in reduced water consumption were reached.

The Stantec study referred to in the sustainability plan attributed high water demand in Whitehorse to a number of reasons, of which low cost to the consumer was only one.

Some others were the bleeding of lines and mains to protect from freezing, leaks, and low conservation efforts. Rate structuring was only one of the recommendations Stantec made.

Environment Canada estimates 40 per cent of residential water use can be reduced without a change to lifestyle.

Yet lower cost avenues to support water conservation are not being promoted.

The city’s plan so far looks a lot like what the experts advise against, using one instrument to try to achieve many objectives.

There is the issue of what this will cost residents in the future.

Thinking Beyond Pipes and Pumps, which was produced by the POLIS Water Sustainability Project, the same people who published Flushing the Future, says, “Although ‘full costs’ (of water) are ultimately paid one way or another — most commonly through business or property taxes — shifting the full costs into water prices encourages conservation by revealing the cost to the customer.”

How about it? Is the proposal to shift the costs? It sounds like Mayor Bev Buckway sees it as a direct increase. 

The price structure is said to be more important than the price level.

How will the city ensure equitable, revenue neutral access to water, so that lower income residents aren’t penalized?

Buckway’s comparison between the single senior and the family of five or six doesn’t inspire comfort.

The single person won’t pay as much as the family because the family uses more water, she says.

“Nobody can say that’s not fair.”

Well, lots of us would, if it means the family of five has to pay more for water they need.

Shouldn’t the focus be on waste?

So that if the single person wastes more than the family of five, she would be paying more.

And by the way, we don’t know yet if residents are using “too much” water because they’re leaving the taps on or taking long showers, or have leaking pipes.

We don’t know if every resident who waters their yard for an hour uses “too much” water.

We only know that multiple causes are creating high demand.

What are the associated costs?

A few weeks ago it was only said that the money was coming from the federal government.

Now half is coming from the federal government and half from the city.

It’s even more surprising, then, that there’s been no mention of a cost-benefit analysis.

Many municipalities, larger than ours, have backed off from universal metering after the analysis in favour of lower cost and effective tools.

I support a community water conservation plan, but that’s not what’s been proposed.

I am critical that the issue of conservation is brought forward to justify hastening to choose the most expensive option on the menu.

The city could instead, for example, choose to meter a selected percentage of households in order to audit water use and identify water losses, to give residents more information that will help them make the transition to a changed water pricing regime.

This plan is so vague it may only accomplish opening the door to routine and unaccountable user fee increases in the future, as with the landfill tipping fees.

Before approving this venture, council should insist on a more rigorous assessment of what exactly the city wants to achieve, and why, and all the avenues available for water conservation, including positive incentives.

In other words, devise the integrated demand-side water management plan before expenditures are approved, instead of trying to sell a rather muddled one a couple of weeks before the budget is passed.

The examination should be within a process that invites the public in on the discussion, and not just those fortunate enough to be able to take four days off work to attend charettes — especially one where the issue was only one among many.

Marianne Darragh