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'Best water around' not good enough

Alyssa Smith
Northern News Services
Published Friday, May 21, 2010

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Drinking water that's been called the best around by city officials doesn't measure up to federal guidelines, but how soon a new treatment plant has to be built isn't clear.

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The water from taps in Yellowknife currently undergoes only chlorination as part of the treatment process. Federal drinking water guidelines say the city must filter its water. - Alyssa Smith/NNSL photo

The changes to the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality mean that Yellowknife is required to have a water treatment plant that filters drinking water. The current system uses a filter for only fish and sediment, adds fluoride to prevent tooth decay, and treats the water with chlorine.

A recent Yellowknifer poll of readers showed on majority enjoy the taste of the city's water the way it is.

Coun. Shelagh Montgomery agrees with the results of the poll.

"It's fabulous," she said. "It's the best water around. "I think it's unfortunate, in some ways, that the city has to go this way because we do have exceptionally clean water," she said when asked about the need for a new $25 million water treatment facility.

She did however admit that whether or not Yellowknife needs a plant that meets the new filtration guidelines is not up for discussion.

"We are recognizing that we won't have any choice," she said. "We'll have to put in the extra infrastructure to meet federal law."

The responsibility for safe drinking water, according to Health Canada's website, is shared between municipal and territorial or provincial governments, as well as the federal government.

The guidelines for drinking water quality are the same nationwide. There are no changes from region to region. Guidelines are introduced or amended when research about levels of water contaminants suggests a potential risk to public health, according to Ashley Lemire, media relations officer for Health Canada.

Fleming said these standards used to be suggestions, but as of Sept. 14, 2009, when the amendments were released, the guidelines became enforceable by the territorial government.

When asked why Yellowknife needs a new Water Treatment Plant, Fleming laughed.

"That's a good question," he said.

He said that city doesn't currently filter its water, and the new guidelines say water from surface sources, like the Yellowknife River - which the city draws from - must be filtered.

"In order to comply with regulations they do need a filtration plant," he said.

Fleming says the guidelines really haven't changed much, they've just become more enforceable.

He said there isn't a precise deadline for the city to have to new facility built, the GNWT just needs to see that the wheels are in motion.

"There is a time limit. As the regulator, we won't allow them to keep the current status," he said.

Fleming said the city has been fully co-operating so far.

If the city doesn't comply with the new guidelines within an amount of time that Environmental Health deems acceptable, Fleming said it could be penalized.

"There certainly could be a penalty," he said. "They could be charged or issued a ticket, and ordered to provide a new treatment plant."

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