The irony is almost too much to swallow.
Less than 24 hours after hundreds of residents piled into Chilliwack Alliance Church to give Fraser Health Authority (FHA) bureaucrats a piece of their mind about a chlorination edict, E. coli was detected in the main water system.
City officials issued a water quality advisory Wednesday for 350 homes in Greendale after water sampling confirmed a low level of E. coli bacteria at a test site at South Sumas and Sumas Prairie roads.
The city immediately flushed the pipes and activated its standby chlorination system.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz held a press conference Wednesday afternoon at which she said the testing was yet to be confirmed and that she hoped the risk was, and is, negligible. Results from resampling were expected Thursday, after which the city and FHA were to determine if a boil-water advisory was warranted.
Opposition to chlorination at the Tuesday meeting was fierce and after the positive test, the Times asked Gaetz if her mind was changed.
"I think any thoughtful community will think what could have happened had we had a larger incident," Gaetz said. "We will think about it."
She was hopeful, however, that alternatives could still be found to chlorination of the main system.
FHA chief medical health officer Dr. Paul Van Buynder addressed approximately 500 people at the meeting Tuesday to discuss the
order that Chilliwack begin drinking water chlorination.
Van Buynder immediately began by talking about Walkerton and the seven people who died and 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," 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.
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. "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 Tuesday evening.
"You mention Walkerton," Les said. "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.
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 "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 (brother of former Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Chuck Strahl).
Resident Bob Buhler suggested Van Buynder came to Chilliwack "to talk down to us" after which he read a detailed definition of the word "bullying," pointing out that the next day, Feb. 27, was provincial anti-bullying day.
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 has also 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 that serves 97 per cent of the city.
A petition begun at www. chilliwackwater.com has more than 4,000 signatures.
No timeline has been given for chlorination and anyone with questions not already answered on Fraser Health's website can email them to waterquestions@ fraserhealth.ca.
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