No new wells could mean dirty water

The city won’t dig any new water wells until the end of 2007. “This thing can afford to wait,” said mayor Ernie Bourassa at last…

The city won’t dig any new water wells until the end of 2007.

“This thing can afford to wait,” said mayor Ernie Bourassa at last week’s council meeting.

But, under the worst-case scenario, that means Whitehorse residents may be boiling their drinking water.

Currently, when water from ground wells isn’t enough, the city tops up its stock with Yukon River water.

And if the city continues to use the potentially harmful river water, the territory may issue a boil water order, said Yukon’s environmental health officer Pat Brooks.

During times of high turbidity (when sediments are stirred up by the river current) bacteria could get into the water supply.

“Turbidity is particles in the water and bacteria can clump on to these particles — once they do, it’s harder for chlorination to get to it,” said Brooks.

“Surface water is going to have that issue — especially this time of year with runoff.”

Whitehorse has never had a boil water order before.

Council originally agreed to build enough new wells this year to cover the groundwater shortfall, and eliminate the city’s reliance on river water.

It also wanted to provide groundwater reinforcements in case the other wells malfunctioned or needed repair.

The city allocated $1.49 million in its 2006 capital budget for this project.

The funds were expected to be transferred from the federal Gas Tax program, but have been withheld by Ottawa until the city completes a sustainability study for the project.

As the study is estimated to take around 18 months, it was proposed the $1.49 million be allocated from the city reserves to keep the groundwater project going.

But by doing this, the city would lose up to $74,000 in interest revenue it would earn by leaving the money in the reserve.

So instead, council decided to withdraw only $150,000 — the amount needed to connect a new well that has already been built near Selkirk Elementary School.

All other well projects have been postponed until the sustainability study is complete and the federal funds become available.

Drinking water concerns stem from new guidelines published by Health Canada, which have higher testing standards for turbidity in surface water.

It is standard protocol for Yukon Environmental Health to abide by these guidelines.

“The issue is not so much about the quality of the water,” said city manager Dennis Shewfelt. “It’s more about the strengthening of the regulations to guard against any possibly adverse conditions that are effecting the public.”

Spring is the riskiest part of the year because runoff from high-country snowmelts flush into the river, making it cloudy, said Shewfelt.

But Brooks says with rain and wind there is risk for turbidity throughout the summer.

The city doesn’t expect the territory to call a boil water order any time soon, said Bourassa.

“When they say a boiling water advisery may be foreseeable, I don’t know whose crystal ball they’re looking at, but I don’t foresee that in the next year.

“I presume there would be some flexibility on phasing in of regulations and that we would not be expected to meet them bang dead on … just as Dawson City had some flexibility with sewer issues,” said Bourassa.

At present most of the city’s groundwater comes from one primary Riverdale well. (RM)


Golf course switcheroo

Jeff Luehman wants to step up to the plate to help curtail Whitehorse’s residential lot shortage.

But city council has to let him.

Last week, the Meadow Lakes Golf and Country Club co-owner made a final plea to the council for permission to build a subdivision on land previously set aside for a golf course expansion.

Now, after realizing there isn’t a market for the extra nine holes, Luehman wants to flip the 23.6-hectare parcel of Crown land he leased in 2003 into residential lots.

Luehman plans to build a 27-lot subdivision, dubbed Fox Haven Estates, and a few rental chalets for vacationers.

The Yukon government gave the development the green light, but council must approve the zoning change before Luehman can break ground.

“I certainly hope you vote in favour of it,” Luehmann told council.

“There’s a huge shortage of lots, which we seem to hear about all the time, so we’ve stepped up to the plate and we’re willing to provide them.

“You’re going to get another 27 families that are going to benefit by having homes on this piece of property in amongst the other activities that are there as well,” he said.

Although families may benefit, other developers have been kept out of the loop, said councilor Doug Graham.

He says giving Luehman access to the land without offering it to other developers is unfair.

“Luehman came up there (Monday) and said, ‘I saw an opportunity and I took advantage of it,’ but nobody else had the opportunity because he had it leased for a golf course,” said Graham.

“If the land came available as land for residential use, I know of at least a half a dozen people in Whitehorse that would have applied for it, immediately,” he said.

And several other developers, including the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, were told by the lands branch they couldn’t lease the land for residential use, because it was reserved for a golf course.

Kwanlin Dun has written letters to the city objecting to the development.

But Luehman says he never committed to building the golf course.

“We’ve put a lot of money into the project and the venture, and we want to carry it on even further. We never ever committed to building an 18-hole golf course. The original intent was to perhaps build an 18-hole golf course, but things change,” he said.

“There seems to be this cloud over how this land was achieved or how we got it, and I’ve presented those facts to you,” Luehman said to council.

“We leased the purchase agreement with the government of the Yukon, plain and simple. It’s a legal binding document, it’s been signed by the ministers, it’s been signed by the lands branch, it was executed to us, we signed it,” he said.

“I saw an opportunity, I went to the original proponents that originally had a lease on that piece of property and we went through a process of attaining their lease with a purchase option and the rest is sort of history.”

But one property owner near the golf course urged council to deny the application.

“I would urge that city council first of all deny this proposal, and secondly reconsider another way of approaching development of these lands,” Rick Farnell told council.

“I’m not saying there shouldn’t be development in the city, I’m not saying that land shouldn’t be developed, I’m just concerned about the way it’s being done, which I find subversive.”

Luehman has the right to buy the land, but the rezoning must go through two more city council votes plus a five-week public consultation before its approved.

Will Graham vote against it?

“I would say it’s a pretty good bet,” he said.

What about the other councillors?

“I think maybe one or possibly even two would vote against it but not enough to turn it down unfortunately,” said Graham.

“The words I’ve heard are, ‘It’s not our responsibility to dispose of the land.’ But the way I look at it is, it’s in the municipality, we’re municipal councillors, we have an obligation to the citizens to make sure that everybody has a fair shot at doing things,” he said.

Council will vote on the zoning change next Monday.