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NEWS: Whitehorse chapter challenges bottled water

The Yukon News reported in early-December that, “After two decades, the Yukon Spring Inc. water-bottling plant is planning to expand. The property, about one kilometre east of the Alaska Highway in Crestview, predates the city’s plan for the subdivision. So, owner Paul Sheridan has been grandfathered in city’s official community plan, enabling him to run his commercial business from a residential property for 22 years. …But (now) Sheridan wants to expand. So that is forcing him to jump through the proper, regulatory hoops.”

“Yukon Spring Inc. began in 1988. It now sells approximately 76,000 litres of natural spring water annually… Their clientele ranges from private homes to stores like Shoppers Drug Mart. But, except for a brief contract with a Japanese buyer, shipping costs have kept the company local. …The proposed expansion hopes to include bottle-making machinery and will replace the plant’s trailers with solid structures. …It’s just time to get new, go bigger and become more of a competitor within Canada as well as internationally, (Sheridan and the company’s general manager) said.”

“The water business is like a wind farm, (Sheridan) said. Any time it rains or snows the resource is renewed. Plus, they own the spring they pull the water from, he said. ‘The public doesn’t have access to this water,’ he said. ‘It’s an underground supply that feeds into the Yukon River, so all we’re doing is interrupting that feed and taking some of it out. The balance still goes into the Yukon River and we have a limit under our water license of 350 cubic metres per day. And we’re not even close to that.'”

“City council hasn’t passed the zoning changes yet. But Councillor Doug Graham says he has no problem with it.”


In a letter to the editor published by the Yukon News on January 7, Council of Canadians Whitehorse chapter activist Tory Russell writes, “The recent story reports that Paul Sheridan believes he privately owns the water on his property, insisting, ‘The public doesn’t have access’. Now, if this underground spring was a rare mineral resource surface property rights would not apply, instead the right of free-entry and the Yukon Quartz Mining Act would kick in. But this is water, currently enjoying a legislative vacuum and an absence of clear and enforceable standards in both Yukon and Canada…”

“Borrowing from progressive language, Sheridan argues bottling water is a sustainable local business, claiming that every time it rains or snows the water is renewed. …Part of the myth of abundance is the idea that water is renewable. As Paul Muldoon, Executive Director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association wrote in 2000, ‘There is only so much water to use before we start mining into its capital rather than living off the interest. Then there is the huge wild card of climate change … at the very least, the unpredictability of climate change should instil a precautionary approach on any decisions regarding water removals.'”

“Sheridan aims to export Yukon’s water internationally, in other words remove quantities permanently from the watershed. Selling water for export can subject Yukon to rules and governance that we have no say in, like NAFTA and CETA – a big consequence from a small municipal zoning change. …Going to city hall may soon be a moot point, depending on Premier Dennis Fentie’s covert participation in the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) talks which are nearing their final round. …By either active or passive response to CETA, our territorial and municipal governments are currently in the process of bargaining away Yukon’s water sovereignty.”

“The local Whitehorse chapter of the Council of Canadians went twice (2008 and 2009) to our mayor and council to express our concerns and share our recommendations that Whitehorse ban the sale of bottled water in public facilities and at municipal events, promote publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services and recognize water as a human right. …As part of the local and global movement for water security and justice, the Whitehorse chapter of the Council of Canadians believes water is an important issue for our next territorial and federal elections. We need national and territorial water policy, clear and enforceable drinking water standards for all communities, source water protection and a ban on water export. Last spring, close to 200 of us gathered to celebrate the Yukon River as a commons that belongs to life itself, our mother earth; it is not a commodity. Maude Barlow and Yukon water experts spoke at Shipyards Park May 28 2010, here is a link: http://rabble.ca/podcasts/shows/needs-no-introduction/2010/08/water-commons-or-commodity.”

The Yukon News article is at http://www.yukon-news.com/business/20890/. Tory’s letter to the editor should be posted to the ‘letters’ page shortly, http://www.yukon-news.com/letters/.