Some residents plan to dig deep over surface water line switch-off
Groups of residents around Yellowknife’s Old Town are contemplating a petition against a city proposal to abandon their unique summer water delivery system.
Each summer, most people living north of the hill leading to Yellowknife’s downtown switch from trucked water to a system of glorified garden hose pipes known as surface water lines.
Those residents can then enjoy as much water as they need, fed from the mains to their homes via those pipes, rather than relying on whatever a standard water tank can hold.
But the City of Yellowknife says maintaining that intricate network of hundreds of tiny lines and valves is becoming a Sisyphean task.
“It’s infrastructure that runs through yards, through places that we can’t get. We do our best to maintain it, but it’s failing,” city director of public works Chris Greencorn told councillors last month. He said one broken valve can ruin the water pressure for an entire neighbourhood, but finding the valve in question can require days and days of staff time.
“Staff are spending almost 1,000 hours on surface water lines, and that’s a lot,” said Greencorn.
“It comes at a horrible time of the year. Everybody wants them at the end of May, June, and that’s when everything else is hitting us – water breaks, storm sewer flushing, street sweeping, we’re all systems go.
“To dedicate almost 1,000 hours of staff time to chase leaks around is getting harder to justify on our end.”
At the same meeting, city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett said: “It’s not sustainable for us at all.”
As a result, the city is proposing that from next year onward, the system of surface water lines will no longer be maintained. Residents of Old Town would remain on trucked water year-round, like other areas of Yellowknife that rely on twice-weekly deliveries by truck.
Petition would call for analysis
That won’t come to pass if some of those residents can help it.
In emails last week, members of the Back Bay Community Association – representing residents in and around Yellowknife’s Peace River Flats neighbourhood, which has access to surface water lines – discussed taking a stand against the city’s proposal.
Writing to association members, resident Lois Little described the plan as a “half-baked proposal.” Little said the city had not talked to people directly affected, considered other options such as upgrading the lines rather than abandoning them, or considered the cost implications for residents.
Little said the association’s annual meeting on May 23 will involve a discussion about putting forward a petition calling for a “cost-benefit analysis of options for delivering water to Old Town and Latham Island households and businesses.” She said that analysis should include a consideration of “equality of cost and access to water throughout the city.”
Such a petition, she wrote, would include a request that the surface water lines be maintained “until such time as a consensus can be reached by residents and the City of Yellowknife on water delivery methods.”
Little said other groups of affected residents, such as the Latham Island Community Association and Old Town Community Association, would be approached to join any petition.
She added that Mayor Rebecca Alty had been in touch to state that city staff would bring a form of analysis and recommendations to council at a later date, but that date was not specified.
At April’s meeting, Greencorn said “public outreach” on the issue would follow.
“We’ll maintain it this year for sure, and then probably look at moving away from it next summer,” he said of surface water lines.
Bassi-Kellett said councillors can expect to see a “go-forward plan” on the issue before final decisions are taken.