New Democratic MLAs, including the member for Vuntut Gwitchin riding, say more government staff are required to keep up with water delivery demands in Old Crow.
Water from the community treatment plant is delivered by truck to residences and businesses, but on Nov. 2 Whitehorse-Centre MLA Emily Tredger told the legislature that staff are struggling to keep up with demand.
“This ongoing staffing shortage has a direct effect on the community. This is a Yukon community where people have to prioritize water use or risk running out altogether,” said Tredger.
“Citizens know to conserve water to make it last, but still, it is not rare to have a home run out of water — sometimes for days at a time. Let me repeat this: We have a community in the Yukon where people don’t have consistent access to running water. What is the minister doing to fix this unacceptable situation?” said Tredger.
Answering the question on the floor of the legislature, Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn said it “is an issue that we have to address and I will get more information.”
Vuntut Gwitchin MLA Annie Blake sent a letter to the Minister of Highways and Public Works concerning the issue on July 14.
According to Blake, the Old Crow treatment plant is staffed by two full-time employees who work up to six days a week to deliver water. She described how they are currently working extra hours on-call and are unable to take holidays, get out on the land or go on medical leave.
In the letter, addressed to Minister Nils Clarke, Blake notes that housing shortages exacerbate the problem. Not only does overcrowding add to more water usage, but there is little housing available for new potential staff.
“With the ongoing pressure of constantly being prepared to deliver service, the two main staff, who are citizens of Old Crow, are at an increased risk of burnout and exhaustion,” reads Blake’s letter.
Staff for the treatment plant are employed by the Yukon government. Technically water delivery falls under Community Services, but Mostyn said they are contracted through the department of Highways and Public Works.
Kelly Howie, who runs the co-op in Old Crow, said the business is particularly affected by the water issues. The Co-op building includes the store in addition to housing for Howie’s family and two hotel rooms for guests in the community.
Her water tank, with 750 gallons capacity, is not always enough to meet the demand of the amount of people using the building.
“We limit our water. Other than that, it’s hoping and praying,” she said. “It’s not just me. If it was, that would be fabulous. But [the delivery staff] have 75 houses plus the other businesses, the school and the government.”
Mostyn said staffing levels have been consistent in the community for many years.
“There have been two staff members delivering water in Old Crow for a very long time. Nothing has changed there so I’m not really sure why this is suddenly an issue,” he said.
“I don’t think people in Old Crow are suffering from a lack of water. I think there’s occasionally, perhaps, delays, but I haven’t even heard specifics about that,” he said. “The water in Old Crow meets or exceeds all water quality guideline requirements. So they’ve got good water up in Old Crow and it just comes down to the staffing, and as I said, nothing has changed in the staffing for many years,” he said.
Mostyn said staffing and training is always a challenge in small communities but to his knowledge, the two staff are able to be backfilled by other highways department staff in Dawson City.
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org