Fraser Health chlorination edict for Chilliwack sparks outrage

"From what I can see, most residents have overwhelmingly rejected the idea," said Mayor Sharon Gaetz.

Chilliwack is expressing outrage about the prospect of having chlorination imposed on its drinking water.

“From what I can see, most residents have overwhelmingly rejected the idea,” said Mayor Sharon Gaetz.

Numerous posts opposing chlorination of Chilliwack’s water have popped up this week on Facebook, Twitter and on the The Progress website.

“Our council shares the concerns being expressed by the people of Chilliwack,” said Gaetz, adding that council has already made this known to health officials.

Calls and emails have been flooding in to city hall and to Fraser Health since the medical health officer dropped the bombshell on Chilliwack Tuesday that its award-winning drinking water would soon require a disinfectant be added, namely chlorine.

The main reason was the three incidents of E.coli infection detected over the past five years in the water system, along with a growing population base, meaning more people and animals in the area.

But all three E.coli incidents were isolated, the mayor said, occurring in hillside reservoir tanks. City staff took immediate action activating the emergency chlorination system.

“I think anyone would be hard-pressed to argue that those incidents constitute a pattern,” she said.

The city has 20 people working full-time to look after the city’s drinking water, which comes from the underground Sardis aquifer.

“We have invested heavily in our drinking water system,” she said. “We take care of it. We replace aging pipes and clean them every year. We take every precaution to ensure we don’t have incidents of contamination.”

The city takes 50 water samples every week, exceeding the required 22 samples.

“That’s our choice to exceed the testing requirements,” Gaetz said.

She said she has only seen a few comments that appear to support the idea of chlorination if the water is proven to be unsafe.

But the mayor is not convinced.

“They have to demonstrate to our community that this decision for chlorination is science-based,” said Gaetz.

Today’s society is so concerned with various aspects of the environment in general.

“They’re concerned about what we spray on crops and grass. They’re concerned about GMOs. They’re concerned about what we breathe. We’re worried about all these, so it stands to reason there would be concern about introducing a chemical into our water.”

Those awards for the best drinking water in Canada, and fifth best in the world, weren’t by accident, she said.

“We hope health officials will work with us and seek alternatives like how to better protect our reservoirs. We’d be happy to engage those discussions. I think we need to take small steps here.”

Once they chlorinate, there’s no going back.

“I hope we can figure out a better way. We only have one chance to fight this.”

Isn’t it already a done deal?

“I’m always surprised by what strong public reaction can do,” she said. “As someone who has served on council for 16 years, I can think of many times we have changed our minds after hearing from the community.”

A notice on the city website at chilliwack.com has been directing concerned citizens to call Fraser Health, which has the legislative power to order chlorination under the Drinking Water Protection Act.

The outrage seems to be stemming from people’s frustration at not having a say in the matter, she said.

“That’s what happens when a decision is made for Chilliwack before we even get to chat about it,” said Gaetz. “That’s how some feel about Metro Vancouver and the prospect of incineration. They have been saying, ‘No more.’ You can’t impact something so integral to people’s daily lives like water and not expect a reaction.”

A web petition has started at www.chilliwackwater.com with a Facebook page that already has more than 500 likes.

The FHA drinking water department is at 604-870-7919, but anyone calling Fraser Health about chlorination in Chilliwack is being asked to leave a message. Email comments to feedback@fraserhealth  or mail to Fraser Health Authority, #102 – 34194 Marshall Road, Abbotsford, B.C., V2S 5E4.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

Twitter.com/chwkjourno

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