The chlorination of Chilliwack's water is all set to be a major sore point in the city's relationship with Fraser Health.
The health authority has the power to compel the city to spend money to add chlorine to its water, whether politicians and Chilliwack residents agree or not.
The instant reaction by council was negative in the extreme and, as Mayor Sharon Gaetz admitted, very defensive.
Residents have good reason to be proud of their drinking water, as the mayor and various councillors said. It tastes darn good and adding something to the water risks changing that taste. Our politicians clearly believe that they shouldn't spend money to fix something that isn't broken.
Alas, pride can be a dangerous thing. Fraser Health's Dr. Marcus Lem says that without chlorine, the City of Chilliwack is risking a widespread and potentially lethal outbreak of E. coli.
Gaetz and council rightly wonder just how much of a risk is posed by tap water, given a lack of proof that anybody is getting sick and Lem's statement that getting in a car is probably more dangerous at the present time. They also question whether the money and effort that would be required to begin chlorinating our water would be better spent addressing water issues on First Nations reserves or campaigning against the incineration of garbage.
All are good points, and Lem must make a better case to prove that the danger is as serious as he says it is.
But the local reaction also smacks of hometown boosterism in the face of a compelling, albeit hardly flawless, case that Chilliwack's water could be vulnerable to deadly bacteria. A better approach would be to push for more information before taking a firm stand.
Politically, however, the issue is a no-brainer. Fraser Health has all the power, which means our politicians can safely campaign against adding chlorine to the water with the full knowledge that, when Fraser Health goes ahead with their plan, the risk of E. coli will be reduced and any blame for how the water tastes will be directed at the health authority rather than local politicians.
It's a win-win for them. For the rest of us? We'll wait and see.
© Copyright 2013