Do water coolers count?

Bottled water is more insidious than Bev Buckway expected. When the Federation of Canadian Municipalities passed a resolution to phase it out last week, the mayor thought Whitehorse was ahead of the game. The city is

Bottled water is more insidious than Bev Buckway expected.

When the Federation of Canadian Municipalities passed a resolution to phase it out last week, the mayor thought Whitehorse was ahead of the game.

The city is already doing this, said Buckway. “Once again, we’re leading the way.”

Jugs of city water fill councillors’ glasses during Monday night council meetings and are used at civic dinners, she said.

And Buckway fills her glass from the tap.

What she didn’t know is that many of the city’s buildings have Yukon Spring water coolers onsite.

“We supply the municipal buildings,” said Yukon Spring owner Paul Sheridan on Tuesday.

“There are coolers in city hall, bylaw has one, transit has two, parks and rec has one É.”

“I thought we’d phased them out,” said Buckway, after learning about the coolers.

“But I’m mostly in city hall, I don’t know what they have in the other buildings.”

There might even be some coolers in city hall, she added.

Buckway is looking into it.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ resolution calls on all municipalities to “phase out the sale and purchase of bottled water at their own facilities where appropriate and where potable water is available; and that municipalities be urged to develop awareness campaigns about the positive benefits and quality of municipal water supplies.”

Whitehorse is going to go with the flow, said Buckway.

But she’s not sure if Yukon Spring’s coolers will also be phased out.

“That’s something we’ll have to have a bigger discussion about,” she said.

One place bottled water has a stronghold is the Canada Games Centre.

It’s available in the vending machines, said Buckway. “And we’re not going to pull those, because we’re trying to promote healthier drinks.

“But there are also water fountains there that are available.”

Improving access to public water is crucial, said Council of Canadians water campaigner Meera Karunananthan from Ottawa.

And working water fountains are one way a “municipality can send a strong message to its citizens that it believes in its own water,” she said.

Aggressive marketing campaigns by bottled-water companies have changed the face of thirst, said Karunananthan.

Twenty years ago bottled water was a niche market – a luxury, she said.

“Now, one-third of Canadians use it to meet their daily hydration needs.”

And bottled water isn’t well regulated, said Karunananthan.

Bottled water companies undergo inspections every three years, while municipal water is tested three times a day, and is often better quality, she said.

Municipal water has to meet certain standards.

“We test our water more often than required,” said Buckway.

Chlorine and turbidity are tested around the clock, said public works manager James MacLeod.

“And water samples are sent out weekly for testing.”

“The city spends a lot of money on treatment to make sure we have safe water,” added Buckway.

And you could fill 6,000 bottles from the tap for the same price as one bottle of water bought in a store, she said.

“Municipalities need to look more broadly at water privatization and take a stance,” said Karunananthan.

“Water delivery and treatment needs to be publicly owned, because when water is privatized there is a loss of transparency and accountability – corners are cut to make a profit.”

Trouble is, municipalities use chlorine to sanitize their water, said Sheridan.

“And a lot of people don’t like the taste – it’s an esthetic thing.”

When it mixes with any organic substance, chlorine turns into a very potent carcinogen, he added.

“But it’s safe to drink.”

Sheridan could supply all of Whitehorse with Yukon Spring drinking water, “and with that kind of volume the price would drop dramatically,” he said.

It would also cut city costs, said Sheridan.

Whitehorse residents wash their cars, water their lawns and flush their toilets with drinking water.

“But the amount of water actually used for drinking is less than three per cent,” he said.

“So we’re treating a tremendous amount of water unnecessarily.”

Instead of phasing out bottled water, the city should spend money on education, said Sheridan.

No on wants to see landfills full of plastic water bottles, he said.

But there are ways to cut down waste and still drink spring water. Water coolers and refillable bottles are one example.

In the next few weeks, council will be discussing the future of Sheridan’s water coolers in the municipal buildings, said Buckway.

“I prefer tap water,” she said.

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