British Columbia

E. coli bacteria sparks Chilliwack water chlorination fight

E. coli bacteria has been found in Chilliwack's drinking water supply, but the mayor is opposed to the local health authority's proposal to start chlorinating its water.

E. coli bacteria detected in samples taken over the past few years

Water chlorination dispute in B.C.

9 years ago
Chilliwack's mayor objects to the chief medical officer's recommendation to chlorinate 2:12

E. coli bacteria has been found in Chilliwack's drinking water supply, but the mayor is opposed to the local health authority's proposal to start chlorinating its water.

The Fraser Health Authority wants the City of Chilliwack to start adding chlorine to its drinking water, after finding the E. coli bacterium three times in samples taken over the past few years.

Dr. Marcus Lem, a medical health officer with FHA, says something needs to be done before someone gets sick.

"We don't want to take the chance that, you know, there's going to be a large outbreak here. We just want to do something about it now and turn on the chlorinators that they already have."

The Fraser Health Authority has the power to order chlorination of the city's water supply, as legislated in the province's Drinking Water Protection Act.

It recently advised the city that in order for it to continue operating a municipal drinking water system, it would have to add a secondary disinfectant to the water.

But Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz says the people of Chilliwack are proud of their water, and furious about the idea of adding chlorine.

She says chlorine is linked to bladder and colon cancer, and it affects the taste.

"You can't mess with the water that you drink. These are very, very small incidents that were rectified and we have every assurance that if we go out there today we would find that our water is clean and pure and the best in Canada," she said.

Gaetz says the E. coli cases were isolated and dealt with promptly, and she hopes the Fraser Health Authority will take a second look before chlorine is put in the water.

Reports for 2010 and 2012 were not available online in the health protection section of the FHA's web site.

According to a 2011 report, E. coli bacteria was detected in water reservoir tanks which serve three per cent of the Chilliwack water system.

No fecal coliform contamination was found in any of the samples, and the E. coli bacterium was detected just once, on a sample taken July 18 from the Promontory Road reservoir.


  • An earlier version of this story referred to the E. coli strain found in Chilliwack water as 'deadly'. It has now been clarified this was not the case.
    Feb 20, 2013 10:00 AM PT