After months of community debate on water fluoridation, the City Council has the task Tuesday of determining whether the cavity-fighting compound should be added to the city’s drinking water supplies.
The special council meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. in the Community Chambers at City Hall, 23 Russell Blvd. It can be watched live on Comcast Channel 16, AT&T U-Verse Channel 99 and streamed on the city’s website at www.cityofdavis.org/media.
Should the council approve fluoridation, city staff estimate it would add about $2 per month to water utility bills in Davis. Proponents believe fluoridation would provide affordable preventative dental care to the public and opponents say it is an inefficient way to deliver that service, amid many other arguments and counterarguments.
Water charges in town are already expected to triple over the next five years, and continue to rise thereafter, after the council pumped up rates in March to raise enough cash to cover the city’s share of the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency surface water project. That share is estimated at $110 million.
If the project stays on schedule, construction would start later this year and the new drinking water would arrive in Davis by 2016. The project will pump water from the Sacramento River, treat it at a plant shared by Davis and Woodland, and pipe it to each community.
The capital costs of fluoridating the surface water supply would be about $240,000 — though that number could grow to $300,000 if Woodland decides to not fluoridate its own supply. But the real cost for Davis is in fixing the deep wells with the compound.
To fluoridate the city’s six deep-water wells, engineers calculate a price tag of anywhere from $837,000 to $2 million in up-front capital costs.
Operation and maintenance costs of fluoridating Davis’ water supply, meanwhile, for both deep wells and the surface water plant would be about $230,000 to $240,000 per year.
While water bills likely would increase by a couple of bucks each month, if the council OKs fluoride, the city would not have to restart the rate-setting process, as the rates the council adopted in March still would cover the cost of fluoridation.
Water rates set by the Proposition 218 process are the maximum amounts a city can charge residents for water.
City staff will not make a recommendation one way or the other on fluoridation Tuesday, but Herb Niederberger, the city’s general manager of utilities, development and operations, and Dianna Jensen, the city’s principal civil engineer, do mention in their staff report that under state law, Davis is not required to fluoridate its water supply.
Cities in California are obligated to fluoridate drinking water only if outside funds are available to pay for it. If no funds are available, such as the case in Davis, the jurisdictions are exempt.
While staff has removed itself from the issue — though it did recommend not making a decision on the matter earlier this month because of the uncertain costs associated with fluoride — fluoridation has, in fact, been endorsed by the city’s Water Advisory Committee.
The conversation on fluoridation began this summer, when the WAC took up the issue, holding three lengthy meetings to allow the community to make their case for and against.
Public health officials and local advocates for fluoride argued that, when added to a public water supply, fluoride reduces cavity rates and dental decay and helps cities and their residents save substantial costs on dental care.
Opponents have countered that injecting fluoride into a water supply is not effective — citing studies demonstrating family income levels are a much higher predictor of cavity rates. They’ve also warned of the potential higher risk of fluorosis, a spotting of the teeth that occurs due to high exposure to fluoride.
After nine hours of public hearing over three meetings, the Water Advisory Committee eventually voted 6-1-1 in favor of a recommendation to the City Council that the city should fluoridate its drinking water.
— Reach Tom Sakash at email@example.com or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash