The true cost of water

The second time Tory Russell and Spence Hill tried to convince council to ban water bottles in all city facilities they thought a visual cue might be more persuasive.

The second time Tory Russell and Spence Hill tried to convince council to ban water bottles in all city facilities they thought a visual cue might be more persuasive – so they brought a plastic garbage bag bursting with empty water bottle containers to help illustrate their case.

“This bag holds 100 bottles,” said Hill as she lifted the plastic bag filled with discarded containers.

“So we’re talking about 12,000 of these bags going to the landfill each month in Whitehorse.”

Research compiled by Russell and Hill this summer found that, on average, about 120,000 water bottles are going to the landfill each month.

“We’re concerned about bottled water because it turns water into a commodity,” said Russell following the council meeting.

Bottled water is not safer than the public drinking system, even though some people seem to think it is, she said.

Russell and Hill are both members of the Council of Canadians, a lobby group that has launched the “Blue Communities Project,” a national campaign to ban the sale of water bottles in public facilities and to recognize water as a human right.

They both appeared in council in March this past year to talk about the Blue Communities project and to ask Whitehorse to sign on to the initiative.

But council didn’t agree to take any measures, so Russell and Hill hoped that a second trip to the city would help convince the mayor and council.

“Since our presentation in March, the Blue Communities initiative has received a lot of attention across the country,” said Hill.

Vancouver and Toronto both signed onto the project this summer, as did Yellowknife, a city that has a similar size and set of challenges as Whitehorse.

“This brings the tally of cities that have banned bottled water to more than 40 … If (these cities) can do it, we can,” Hill said during the council meeting.

In April, Yellowknife council passed a motion to urge all municipalities in the Northwest Territories to phase out the sale and purchase of bottled water in all city facilities. The council also encouraged these communities to develop awareness campaigns about the benefits and quality of the municipal water supply.

It was a recommendation that was eventually adopted by the Northwest Territories Association of Communities, said Yellowknife councillor Kevin Kennedy.

The motion was brought forward following a resolution passed in the spring by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which called on Canada’s municipal governments to reduce water-bottle use in all city facilities, said Kennedy.

“It wasn’t difficult at all to pass the motion in council, all the councillors were in favour of it,” he said.

The city administration was also “right behind it,” he added.

It only makes sense for municipalities to support their own municipal water systems, said Kennedy.

“Bottled water producers create paranoia about municipal water even though it is the safest and cleanest in the world.”

But in Whitehorse, council felt that a full ban would not work.

Last year council passed a motion to remove the sale of bottled water in city facilities where potable water already exists. But the Canada Games Centre continued to sell bottled water because of multi-year contracts the city entered into with vending-machine companies. The city was also concerned about being able to provide enough water to athletes in the facility.

“If you have 30 hockey players, and they all want a drink of water, it’s not practical to have the water banned from the machines or to have them take their own water,” councillor Doug Stockdale said at the September 8, council meeting.

“Somehow Toronto and Yellowknife have gotten around that problem,” Hill countered.

The city will continue to consider the water-bottle request, said Mayor Bev Buckway.

The city could re-evaluate removing water bottles from the Canada Games Centre when it renews its contract with its vending-machines companies, she said.

The city is also looking into the legal repercussions of declaring water a human right, she added

Contact Vivian Belik at