February 11, 2019 6:26 pm
Updated: February 12, 2019 7:20 am

Saskatoon councillors seek water standards amid plastic bottle debate

WATCH ABOVE: Saskatoon city administration says free water access and vendor contracts are barriers to a plastic water bottle ban.

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After city administration advised against phasing out plastic water bottles, Saskatoon’s environment committee requested information on a minimum standard for free water access in civic facilities.

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Monday’s request comes on the heels of a city administration report examining the possibility of eliminating sales of single-use plastic water bottles at civic facilities and events.

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The city has contracts with drink vendors and a ban on plastic water bottles could result in a breach of contract, according to civic administration. Some contracts are being renegotiated, while at least one current contract is set to expire in 2022.

“While phasing-out bottled water sales at civic facilities could occur as the contracts expire, it is not recommended until water station infrastructure is in place at the facility,” the report states.

Under best practices in the International Building Code, Saskatoon’s leisure centres, office spaces and arenas are about 30 water stations and fountains short.

Even new facilities like the Remai Modern and Nutrien Playland at Kinsmen Park lack adequate places to drink water or fill water bottles, according to Coun. Mairin Loewen.

“I think because it’s not embedded in any building code, it has the potential to slip through the cracks,” Loewen said.

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City golf courses have indoor water fountains, but no fill stations. Phasing out bottled water could pose a “health risk,” according to administration. Hockey arenas are “sparsely equipped” with water fountains and don’t have fill stations.

The cost to supply and install water stations could range from $3,000 to $15,000 per station depending on the location. Addressing Saskatoon’s water station backlog would cost between $90,000 and $450,000, city staff said.

Loewen put forward a recommendation asking city staff to identify city facilities where cost-effective water stations could go in and to prioritize where bottled water sales could eventually be phased out.

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Coun. Darren Hill backed Loewen’s other recommendation, which seeks a minimum standard for water access, but Hill said he won’t tell residents what and how to drink.

“We need to make the options available so the citizens can make up their own minds,” Hill said.

According to Saskatoon’s administration, Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto and seven other Ontario municipalities have phased out or banned bottled water at civic facilities and events.

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