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Councillors mull switching city’s water source to YK Bay

Yellowknife’s water source was discussed at city hall on Monday, with some expressing concerns over a proposed switch to Yellowknife Bay from Yellowknife River.

The current system from Yellowknife River is due for replacement by 2020 at a cost of $20 million. A city report in 2011, however, recommended switching the source to Yellowknife Bay at a cost of $5 million.

“If we do draw from the bay … we would need to develop an arsenic removal system,” said Chris Greencorn, the city’s director of public works and engineering. “We would want this safeguard in place.”

Read: YK’s next big water question: Is it worth $20M to avoid Giant Mine?

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Greencorn says the city would recommend using an iron absorption process that involves iron filters processing the water to remove most arsenic.

Even in worst-case scenarios, Greencorn says the filter system would be safe. “Even if there was a release at Giant Mine, we would be able to provide adequate treatment for four months.”

Not everyone was on board, however.

George Erasmus, who was the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations from 1985 to 1991, says the city should replace its existing system.

“I honestly don’t think there is anything more important than putting that pipe back in place,” he said. “Anything else is really reckless.

“I hate to use the example of Flint, Michigan, but I’m sure the council members there, when they decided to change where the water came in, they never imagined they’d be poisoning their citizens later.”

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The city says the water in Yellowknife Bay is “in line with natural background levels” and even in the event of a spill the water would be safe because of the arsenic treatment facility.

But Erasmus chalked it up to a money-saving measure.

“You’re looking like you want to save money,” he said. “If you want to save money, look at some of the other things the city’s getting into. We’re 70 per cent water, we can’t go long without water.”

The city has sourced its water from the Yellowknife River since 1968, because “there are no influences in the area. There’s no upstream industry, there’s no upstream agriculture influences,” said Greencorn.

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