Opposition from Chilliwack residents to treatment of the city's drinking water system is ramping up despite the fact that the Fraser Health Authority (FHA) says chlorination is inevitable.
A petition created by local residents at www.chilliwackwater.com hit 3,000 signatures by noon on Wednesday. The couple behind the petition, Kim and Jake Reimer, say they want to see 10,000 signatures.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz has accused the FHA of fear-mongering and has defended the drinking water system against criticism after three isolated cases of E. coli were detected in hillside reservoirs since 2009.
FHA 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 said that because of the E. coli cases, the city has "poo in its water" and treatment is required as a proactive, preventive measure.
In an interview with the Times, Lem said chlorination is inevitable, whether it is now or later.
"I don't want to be alarmist but I'm just saying this is what the standard is around the world," he said. "Virtually every other community in B.C. and Canada is chlorinating their water and those that don't, will be soon."
City council was scheduled to hear an update from staff at its Tuesday afternoon meeting on the status of the FHA edict.
City representatives met with Dr. Paul Van Buynder of Fraser Health on Friday "to review the Chilliwack water system, and to continue the discussion regarding secondary treatment of Chilliwack drinking water," according to a note on the city's website.
Van Buynder is quoted as saying: "While the residents of Chilliwack are rightly proud of their water supply and no one should be concerned about drinking the water, Fraser Health is working with the Chilliwack council to address the risk associated with isolated incursions of bacteria into the system. Chlorination as an added safety support is part of these discussions"
Many of those signing the online petition to oppose chlorination have made passionate comments.
"To chlorinate our drinking water would impact my finances doubly," said Amy D. "Not only would I be forced to help pay for a system I'm against, but I would have to pay to install an in home filtration system as well. I cannot and will not drink tap water if the city is forced to chlorinate. I live in Chilliwack and work in Abbotsford. The water at my place of employment is disgusting!"
Patrcia W. wrote: "Surely 3 incidents don't warrant such drastic action! Chilliwack's water is known for being the best, let's keep it that way! If we suddenly get an urge to drink water with bleach we can go to the local swimming pool!!"
Some, however, were more succinct. "Please don't!" wrote Carmen T.
Others have expressed concern that the city's water is not chlorinated.
Bob Richards wrote to the Times to say that he cannot drink untreated water because of a suppressed immune system.
"I was born and raised in Chilliwack. I lived in Chilliwack for my first 18 years. I am now 68. I moved out of Chilliwack to Vancouver and Vancouver Island and for over 35 years I tasted treated water with no side effect," Richards wrote.
"I have a suppressed immune system therefor I cannot roll the dice and hope the water will be safe.
"All I know is that I thought we had learned a lesson from the Walkerton water contamination. By not doing anything you are putting the City of Chilliwack at a tremendous legal liability if contamination of our water supply occurs."
Local filmmaker Matthew Hawkins has created a short film that he said would be posted at www.chilliwackwater.com by Tuesday.