Groundwater in Keno would need to be heavily treated if a new well was dug, a study shows. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News)

Keno groundwater study shows water largely undrinkable without heavy treatment

Officials with the Department of Community Services met with community members this week

A study of groundwater sources in Keno has concluded that the water, for the most part, is very mineralized and contains concentrations of metals including uranium and arsenic that exceed drinking water quality guidelines.

That means that even if a new well is drilled for Keno, which has been relying on water trucked in from Mayo since its old well was damaged in 2015, the water would need to be heavily treated to make it drinkable.

The study, undertaken by Whitehorse engineering consultation company Morrison Hershfield Ltd. at the request of the Department of Community Services, was presented to Keno residents at a community meeting Aug. 31. A copy, dated April 10, 2017, was provided to the News.

The study, which was based on previous mapping, drilling and monitoring well records, identified two aquifers within Keno City — an overburden aquifer, found in a layer of silt, sand and gravel, and a bedrock aquifer sitting below that.

The overburden aquifer is “thin” and “not ideal for adequate groundwater production,” the study said. The water quality is “somewhat variable” but is “typically quite mineralized” and contains levels of iron, manganese, arsenic and uranium that exceed the aesthetic and health-related levels of the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality.

The bedrock aquifer has “greater potential for groundwater production” but has an even lower quality of water than the overburden aquifer, the study found, with the water being more heavily mineralized and containing more metals.

Keno’s damaged well, the study noted, historically had “low to marginal flow production” but “relatively good” water quality. However, the quality significantly declined even after attempted repairs and clean-up efforts following the 2015 damage, suggesting that “the well improvements likely increased the proportion of bedrock fractures contributing to low quality groundwater.”

Keno’s groundwater may not be a complete write-off, though. Two monitoring wells recently drilled by Alexco Environment Group about 700 metres and 140 metres from the damaged well appear to have water that’s “slightly less mineralized” and “on average” meets drinking water quality guidelines.

The study also said that the overburden aquifer may thicken northwest of Keno towards Crystal Lake, marking a new potential area for future groundwater exploration.

“However, in general, groundwater obtained from the Keno City area will likely require advanced treatment to meet the (guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality),” the study concluded. “Health related treatment would most likely be required for arsenic and uranium, while aesthetic treatment for iron, manganese and hardness will likely also be desirable.”

Keno resident Leo Martel, who is also head of the community club and owner of the Keno City Hotel, said the study results weren’t surprising. The water from Keno’s wells has always been hard, he said, and the community has “never had nicer water” than what’s being trucked in from Mayo.

The main problem with the water supply now, Martel said, is that Keno would be dry if the truck bringing in the water broke down or the community sees a large influx of visitors, as it usually does for festivals or long weekends.

The issue was raised during the meeting, Martel said. The 15 or so residents who attended and representatives from community services agreed to look into putting in more water storage facilities in Keno.

“We were looking at … where we could put a bigger tank because right now the only water we have on standby is the water that’s in the water truck,” Martel said. “… We came to the reasonable conclusion that we need some water storage and that’s what we’re looking at.”

Unlike some other Keno residents Martel said he doesn’t mind that the community doesn’t have a local water supply.

“When it’s going to make sense to build another well, and I’m sure the government’s going to put another well in, (but) for now, it makes sense to truck it in,” he said. “As long as they’re okay with that, I’m okay with that because it doesn’t affect my business.”

Another resident, Sourdough Cafe owner Jim Milley, has long been an advocate of finding another local water source for the community and, as the News previously reported, has started a petition demanding the territorial government address the water “crisis” in Keno. Milley said he thought Thursday’s meeting was “one of the more productive meetings I’ve seen.”

“They discussed some options but they really haven’t identified (a) water source…. (but) at least they’re actually looking at things now,” Milley said.

“We’ll see what develops when they actually start looking at these alternative development sites and doing whatever water testing they need.… Time will tell, we’ll see how soon we get our water back and Keno’s allowed to join the Yukon again.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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