Surface water line valves on a property in Yellowknife's Peace River Flats. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
The City of Yellowknife has set out how it plans to make a decision on Old Town’s surface water lines.
The lines form a system of glorified hose pipes that wind through Old Town, ensuring homes in the neighbourhood have access to unlimited water from the city’s mains throughout the summer, rather than relying on trucked water as they do in winter.
Within Yellowknife, such a system is unique to Old Town.
In May, city staff suggested maintaining that system is draining hundreds of hours of staff time. In particular, staff must spend ages each summer hunting down tiny leaks that can cause loss of pressure further down the system.
“It’s not sustainable for us at all,” said city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett at the time, and staff discussed leaving the system to its own devices next year, ceasing maintenance until it gradually fades away.
The Back Bay Community Association – which represents some of the residents who would be affected – said it had gathered 203 signatures in a petition presented to the city.
The association said it wanted “public and transparent evidence-based decision-making on this fundamental municipal service,” especially regarding the city’s assertion that keeping the lines going is not sustainable.
A letter accompanying the petition also asks for terms of reference – agreed to by the residents – for a cost-benefit analysis of various ways of delivering water to Old Town, and the continuation of the system “until a consensus can be reached.”
On Monday last week, Mayor Rebecca Alty provided a response at a council meeting.
Alty said the city would not be able to meet the Back Bay Community Association’s asserted deadline of December 31 this year to draw up and agree to terms of reference for a study.
“It’s not possible to meet this deadline based on the current workload of administration,” she said.
Instead, City Hall is planning to begin work on a study in the first quarter of 2024.
Alty said a thorough analysis of different options – retiring surface water lines, repairing them or replacing them – will be carried out, and will also consider any other options that would keep water flowing to residents, such as local improvement charges.
In the meantime, the mayor said, the city is proposing that “the lines will remain until council makes a decision.”
“But ultimately,” she cautioned, “the decision rests with council and it’s not a consensus decision reached between council and residents.”
Speaking at the same meeting, Councillor Ryan Fequet said: “Obviously, it’s an important decision. And we want to make the right one.
“The steps that the city is undertaking that the mayor just outlined, in my opinion, will address this in a timely manner.”