Watson’s water woes

There are big problems with Watson Lake's water supply, says Mayor Richard Durocher. "We're not at a critical, emergency stage, but we need to act," he said. The water, at times, is brown enough to be mistaken for sewage.

There are big problems with Watson Lake’s water supply, says Mayor Richard Durocher.

“We’re not at a critical, emergency stage, but we need to act,” he said.

The water, at times, is brown enough to be mistaken for sewage. The problem is caused by high levels of iron and manganese in the village’s water wells.

Since the village’s water and sewer pipes were built in the mid-1970s, these metals have come to coat the lines. When these deposits flake off, the water runs brown.

“It’s not a public health risk,” said Pat Living, spokesperson for the Department of Health. “It may not be very attractive, but it’s not going to damage you internally.”

Not all residents find this assuring.

The water ruins loads of laundry. The village recently compensated one hotel that had its white sheets stained unsightly brown.

And it seems to be getting worse. Each year, public works staff open up fire hydrants to clean out the lines.

VIDEO:Watch brown water gushing out of hydrant.

Once, the water would run brown for about one minute. Two weeks ago, the brown water kept gushing from one hydrant for more than 15 minutes.

Then there’s problems with actual sewage. It’s known to spill out of one manhole during storms into a nearby wetland that’s adjacent to Wye Lake, which in turn is near the city’s water wells, said Stephen Conway, the village’s chief administrative officer.

“You have an environmental problem and a health risk.”

City staff blame an underpowered lift station and a lack of storm sewers. Their temporary solution? Park a municipal truck on top of the manhole, to prevent sewage from spilling out.

And, recently, engineers have expressed concern Watson Lake may be in jeopardy of being cut off from its water supply, unless changes are made before the winter.

Watson Lake depends on two wells. Several months ago, one malfunctioned. It’s now up and running again, but the fix is a “Band-Aid solution,” said Conway.

He worries both wells could conk out in the winter.

The territory aims to provide a fix before then, said Matt King, spokesman for the Department of Community Services. “It’s a priority within government.”

There’s $3.2 million in upgrades planned for Watson Lake’s sewer-and-water system, said King. Three-quarters of that money comes from Ottawa, through the Building Canada fund, with the remainder paid by the Yukon.

That money will be used to clean the village’s wellheads and replace or repair two kilometres of sewage piping and 800 metres of water line.

But that money isn’t being spent quickly enough, said Durocher. The village requested help eight months ago, he said.

“We’re getting to a point where we have some critical infrastructure problems we need to address. It’s just not flowing fast enough. In my view, we should have shovels in the ground by now.”

So Durocher’s taken his concerns public. And he’s written letters to Watson Lake MLA Dennis Fentie, Community Services Minister Archie Lang and premier-designate Darrell Pasloski.

“I had a favourable response from Darrell. He said, ‘We’ll act. ‘I’ll give him kudos for that.”

Providing a full fix for Watson Lake’s water woes will likely cost far more than the territory has budgeted to date. The recent assessment of the village’s water infrastructure puts the price at $17 million.

That would help build a new water treatment plant, a higher-powered lift station, and enlarge the village’s water reservoir, which is considered just one-third as big as it ought to be to provide adequate fire protection.

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