02/12/2013 14:16 EST | Updated 04/14/2013 05:12 EDT

Dangerous bacteria sparks fight over Chilliwack water chlorination

A deadly 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 bacteria three times in samples taken over the past few years.

Dr. Marcus Lem, a medical health officer with FHA, says E. coli can kill and 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 but, according to a 2011 report, coliform bacteria was detected in just under three per cent of 1844 samples taken various days at various points in the Chilliwack water system.

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