Yukon releases water strategy

After two years of consultations, the Yukon government has released its water strategy and action plan. The document takes a look at what we know about the territory's water resources, and what we don't.

After two years of consultations, the Yukon government has released its water strategy and action plan.

The document takes a look at what we know about the territory’s water resources, and what we don’t.

Water covers 8,000 square kilometres of the Yukon and drains into six major watersheds, according to the document.

The strategy’s intention is to develop a comprehensive approach to water management in the Yukon.

Priorities outlined in the document including improving groundwater monitoring systems, maintaining and improving access to safe drinking water and better sharing information about Yukon’s water resources.

Lewis Rifkind with the Yukon Conservation Society said in an interview this week that the strategy is better than nothing, but that it takes a very vague and high-level view of the issue.

“It does look like it’s gone through – I call them the government spokesthingies. All of the buzzwords are in there, but what actually does it do?”

The big elephant in the room is the need for more groundwater monitoring in the Yukon, he said.

The Yukon legislative assembly is currently engaged in a public conversation about whether or not hydraulic fracturing should be allowed in the territory.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial method of extracting natural gas that uses a slurry of water, sand and chemicals to blast apart shale rocks deep underground.

A recent Council of Canadian Academies report has found that we still don’t know enough about the potential for fracking fluids to migrate into surface waters over time.

It’s important to have a very good understanding of surface and groundwater resources before any industrial activity is allowed to occur in an ecosystem so that effects can be monitored and managed.

The water strategy does commit to more groundwater monitoring, which is a good thing, said Rifkind.

“It’s a start. Is it enough? No, but at least it’s a start.”

He also suggested that the government should be taking a more holistic approach to environmental management rather than looking at individual resources in isolation.

For example, Yukon has a climate change strategy and now a water strategy, but it impossible to consider one without the other, he said.

“Name the commodity and we have a strategy, but we have to recognize there’s interconnectivity involved,” said Rifkind.

He pointed to the work of the Yukon Intertribal Watershed Council as an example of a different sort of approach. That group looks at the ecology of the Yukon watershed overall, rather than considering it in terms of a single resource.

Seven different Yukon governments are involved in the implementation of the water strategy. They have committed to provide regular progress updates to the government’s Strategic Water Initiatives Group and at yukonwater.ca.

The water strategy will be evaluated and updated every five years.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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