A day after Chilliwack's standby chlorination system was turned on for the first time ever, and two days after a meeting to discuss secondary disinfection of the city's drinking water, resampling for E. coli came back clear.
The city announced the clean tests late Thursday a day after a water quality advisory was issued for 350 homes in Greendale. Water sampling had confirmed a low level of E. coli bacteria at a test site at South Sumas and Sumas Prairie roads.
That finding elicited shock, surprise and even a little suspicion among residents as it came less than 24 hours after hundreds of residents attended a meeting to give Fraser Health Authority (FHA) bureaucrats a piece of their mind about a chlorination edict issued Feb. 5.
After the positive test, city crews immediately flushed the pipes and activated its standby chlorination system. Crews were out again Thursday morning to flush the pipes again and resampling was conducted as per protocol.
“Today’s clear test results do not mean the prior test was incorrect,” director of public works Glen MacPherson said in a press release. “At this time we don’t know what caused the original test result to be positive, but we will continue investigating to determine a cause.”
A boil water advisory issued for Greendale was cancelled late Thursday. And while that area to the west of the city was the location of the positive test, chlorine entered the entire water distribution system.
But just how long the standby chlorination system will be operating is unclear. Fraser Health advised the city to investigate the source of the positive E. coli test and to continue chlorinating the city's drinking water "until further notice."
The news of the positive test came a day after FHA chief medical health officer Dr. Paul Van Buynder addressed approximately 500 people at Chilliwack Alliance Church to discuss the order that Chilliwack begin drinking water chlorination.
Van Buynder began talked about Walkerton and the seven people who died and the 2,300 people who got sick in that Ontario town in May 2000.
"The message that got out at that particular time is that If we don't do drinking water protection properly and we get unlucky with the bug that turns up, then this has enormous consequences for the residents of the town that we are talking about," Van Buynder said.
He said there have been a number of incidents of E. coli and fecal coliform detected in the water system in Chilliwack since 1996, although that was mostly in hillside reservoirs, and never had E. coli been detected in the main distribution system that serves 97 per cent of the population on the valley floor until the day after the meeting.
Chilliwack is one of the largest cities in Canada that does not chlorinate its water.
"Things have happened over the last 16 years when there are times when your system is not foolproof," he said. "There is nothing wrong with chlorinated water. . . . We want to make it foolproof."
The city was first made aware of FHA's concern when medical health officer Dr. Marcus Lem came to city council on Feb. 5 to say the city had to start adding chlorine to the water as a condition of its permit.
Lem made a number of controversial comments following that meeting including that Chilliwack has "poo in its water" and that he wouldn't let his daughter drink it.
Gaetz said Lem was fear-mongering, and Chilliwack MLA John Les was angered by the hyperbole.
Les was first to speak at the microphone Tuesday evening.
"You mention Walkerton," Les said to Van Buynder. "You pointed out that what you would like to achieve in Chilliwack is a foolproof water supply. Chlorination in and of itself does not achieve that. Walkerton was a chlorinated system. The story of Walkerton was you had a couple of idiots running the system and allowing cow manure to run into the well."
Fewer than 20 people were able to ask questions and make comments at the meeting before Fraser Health shut the meeting down at 9:30 p.m.
Ilja Kraemer said her father is allergic to chlorine and that this change would be expensive and difficult for her family.
Judy Fayle said she suffers from third stage kidney disease and held a sign up saying that her dog wouldn't drink chlorinated water.
"How does putting poison in the water make it better?" she asked.
Van Buynder replied that "There is no plot by the government to poison the vast majority of Canadians."
A number of people said they were willing to take the risk of drinking non-chlorinated water.
"I'm willing to take the risk," said Stan Strahl who, incidentally, is the brother of former Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Chuck Strahl.
Van Buynder said Chilliwack has a great source of drinking water but that no matter how good a job city staff do of monitoring the drinking water system, incursions happen from time to time and current testing takes two days to get results. He said secondary disinfection is the only way to ensure the end product will always be safe.
"We need more than just really good water in the ground," Van Buynder said. "We need really good water at the tap."
The city has said it is willing to increase the $3 million a year spent on maintenance, increase flushing from two to three times a year, and increase sampling from once to twice weekly.
Director of public works Glen MacPherson said the city also has asked FHA if chlorination of the hillside areas could be done considering, before Wednesday, there had never been a case of E. coli detected in the main distribution system.
The petition against water chlorination at www.chilliwackwater.com had more than 4,300 signatures by Friday morning.
Anyone with questions for Fraser Health about drinking water chlorination can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.