Paint the town blue

You may be green, but can you be blue? That's how water campaigners challenged Whitehorse politicians on Monday night.

You may be green, but can you be blue? That’s how water campaigners challenged Whitehorse politicians on Monday night.

By banning bottled water in public facilities, promoting publicly owned tap water and “recognizing water as a human right,” Whitehorse could become one of Canada’s first “blue communities,” said Tory Russell, spokesperson for the Whitehorse chapter of the Council of Canadians.

In the leadup to the UN-sanctioned World Water Day on Sunday, the Council of Canadians has launched a nationwide campaign to render Canadian communities blue, many of which are “vulnerable” to water privatization, said Russell.

“Communities are lacking monies to keep their infrastructure up to good standard and there’s no national water strategy,” said Russell.

The federal Building Canada fund promotes “clean drinking water” across Canada—but also promotes the establishment of public-private partnerships, she said.

“When measured against comparable western jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom or Australia, Canada generally lags behind in the use of (public private partnerships),” reads a Building Canada backgrounder, noting that major projects such as the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island came about because of private and public investment.

“With privatization there’s no incentive to manage water efficiently and there’s no incentive to protect it from environmental harm; there’s an incentive to make more money,” said Russell.

Only a smattering of plastic bottles stand in the way of Whitehorse’s coveted no-bottled-water status.

On March 7, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities called on all Canadian towns and cities “to reduce the use of bottled water in their own facilities.”

“The intent of the resolution is to reduce reliance on a product that produces more waste, costs more and uses more energy than simple, dependable municipal tap water,” said Robert Fendrick, director of administrative services.

Whitehorse stopped providing personal-sized bottled water to city employees in 2007—but large-size bottled-water coolers continue to dot city facilities.

In 2008, the city went through 201 water cooler bottles at a total cost of $1,708.50.

Taps can’t keep water cold enough, says a city report.

“In some older city facilities there are no fountains and/or the tap flushing procedure does not work sufficiently to produce cold water in a timely fashion.”

City-owned recreation centres currently include bottled water in onsite vending machines.

That practice would continue, owing to a desire to “promote healthier drinks,” said Mayor Bev Buckway in interviews last week.

Tap water is already publicly owned, but Whitehorse would need to pass a resolution recognizing water as a human right.

Internationally, Canada has consistently opposed resolutions on the human right to water, a position the Council of Canadians calls “shameful.”

“When you say ‘water is a right,’ then does somebody in Africa who doesn’t have any water have a right to the water we have here?” asked councillor Dave Stockdale.

Better overseas water management, rather than bulk water exports, is a more likely scenario, said Russell.

Contact Tristin Hopper at