Yukon’s water sovereignty at risk

Yukon's water sovereignty at risk Re Yukon's Bottled Water Guru Plans Expansion from the December 10 edition of the Yukon News: A Teslin elder shared a memory with me from when the Alaska Highway was being constructed. At the time one of his older relat

Re Yukon’s Bottled Water Guru Plans Expansion from the December 10 edition of the Yukon News:

A Teslin elder shared a memory with me from when the Alaska Highway was being constructed. At the time one of his older relatives warned: “You watch, they will try to sell us our water one day.”

A notion that seemed outrageous and unbelievable 65 years ago may slowly become a reality here in the Yukon.

The recent story reports that Paul Sheridan believes he privately owns the water on his property, insisting, “The public doesn’t have access”.

Now, if this underground spring was a rare mineral resource surface property rights would not apply, instead the right of free-entry and the Yukon Quartz Mining Act would kick in.

But this is water, currently enjoying a legislative vacuum and an absence of clear and enforceable standards in both Yukon and CanadaÉ which is all good for business, and challenging for the majority of Canadian citizens who believe in watershed protection.

With inadequate legislation, one issue is separated into many different struggles to protect water Ð witness the Peel Watershed Planning process and Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation’s proud and principled provision of expert testimony for the Yukon Water Board’s consideration with respect to Western Copper’s application for a water licence for its experimental mine.

Borrowing from progressive language, Sheridan argues bottling water is a sustainable local business, claiming that every time it rains or snows the water is renewed.

Using nice green words totally makes business sense, and also reveals the profit to be made from typical Canadian misperceptions about water.

Part of the myth of abundance is the idea that water is renewable. As Paul Muldoon, Executive Director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association wrote in 2000, “There is only so much water to use before we start mining into its capital rather than living off the interest. Then there is the huge wild card of climate change É at the very least, the unpredictability of climate change should instill a precautionary approach on any decisions regarding water removals.”

Sheridan aims to export Yukon’s water internationally, in other words remove quantities permanently from the watershed.

Framing the business as local is false. International free trade deals apply. These ‘deals’ are anti-local, they deny citizens any democratic participation in both negotiation and resolution. Instead, unelected, trade deals govern us by dispute panels that can, and do, override local and domestic policy.

Selling water for export can subject Yukon to rules and governance that we have no say in, like NAFTA and CETA Ð a big consequence from a small municipal zoning change.

The local Whitehorse chapter of the Council of Canadians went twice (2008 and 2009) to our mayor and council to express our concerns and share our recommendations that Whitehorse ban the sale of bottled water in public facilities and at municipal events, promote publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services and recognize water as a human right.

Going to city hall may soon be a moot point, depending on Premier Dennis Fentie’s covert participation in the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) talks which are nearing their final round.

Europe is home to the world’s largest private water companies. They aim to profit worldwide from water shortage É for them scarcity is an incentive; their potential profits are threatened by conservation and regulations governing watershed management.

EU negotiators want Canada’s municipalities and their water utilities to be included in CETA. If they get what they want, it will be the first time Canada has allowed our drinking water to be fully covered under a trade treaty.

By either active or passive response to CETA, our territorial and municipal governments are currently in the process of bargaining away Yukon’s water sovereignty.

As part of the local and global movement for water security and justice, the Whitehorse chapter of the Council of Canadians believes water is an important issue for our next territorial and federal elections. We need national and territorial water policy, clear and enforceable drinking water standards for all communities, source water protection and a ban on water export.

Last spring, close to 200 of us gathered to celebrate the Yukon River as a commons that belongs to life itself, our mother earth; it is not a commodity.

Maude Barlow and Yukon water experts spoke at Shipyards Park May 28 2010, here is a link:


Tory Russell, Whitehorse chapter, Council of Canadians