Despite the suggestion from city staff to postpone a decision on fluoridation by three years — after the surface water project is built — the Davis City Council opted Tuesday to stick with its original timeline.
As council members took no action to change the date of their decision, they will deliberate and make their final ruling on whether to fluoridate the city’s drinking water supply on Oct. 1.
“I think that just because an issue is divisive, shouldn’t mean that this council should shy away from it,” said Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk.
Staff recommended waiting until the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency surface water project is built to make a decision on fluoridation because it’s still unclear how much adding the compound to the new river water supply, in addition to the city’s wells, will cost.
The estimated costs to the city to add fluoride to its well water system ranges from a little more than $800,000 to more than $2 million total, according to Herb Niederberger, the city’s general manager of development, operations and utilities. The cost to add fluoride to the project’s water supply is estimated to be between $250,000 and $300,000.
Operations and maintenance for both the water project and the wells would run the city about $250,000 annually.
Meanwhile, Niederberger says that because some of the city’s wells could be taken off line in the future for failure to meet certain constituent levels in the water, it would be imprudent to spend the money necessary to equip those wells with fluoride.
“Staff feels it would be premature to decide the fluoridation issue right now,” Niederberger said.
While an ever-widening gap exists between those in the community who oppose fluoridation and those who are for it, the issue of delaying the vote appeared to unite both sides Tuesday, at least momentarily.
“I do not agree with anything the previous speakers have said except one item, and that’s that you should go forward and consider this and make your decision now,” said Alan Pryor, front man for Davis Citizens Against Fluoridation.
“It’s nice to see that Alan and I agree on something in this matter, and that’s that I’m very strongly in favor of you sticking with the October timeline for making a decision,” said Tia Will, a local obstetrician/gynecologist who sits in the pro-fluoride camp.
Councilman Brett Lee found the agreement between the two sides informative enough Tuesday to keep the schedule for the council’s deliberations.
“I think we owe it to our community to do the vote when we had said we were going to do the vote,” said Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson, in agreement with Lee.
It’s not yet clear what council members will base their decisions on when the item comes before them early next month, but there was some discussion of perhaps showing arguments made during the three meetings held earlier this year on fluoridation by the Water Advisory Committee. The council could invite experts to make presentations again, as well.
The water committee, which recommended to the council at its meeting in June 6-1-1 to fluoridate the city’s drinking water, spent more than nine hours over those three meetings listening to and participating in an open debate on the issue.
Ultimately, the arguments made by the dental and pediatric health community about preventative dental care, reduction in cavity rates and cost efficiencies won the group over.
Those opposed to fluoride voiced concerns that adding the compound to the city’s drinking water would increase the chances of fluorosis, carry potential negative effects on the environment and even potentially damage the developing brain.
As far as predicting how the vote might turn out next month, Wolk already has come out in support of fluoride, co-writing an op-ed piece in July that said fluoride helps society’s most vulnerable people access dental care in a cost-effective manner.
Lee, who also authored an op-ed in July, said that rather than turning to fluoride now, he would propose printing a voluntary check-off box on utility bills so residents could donate to a fund set aside for early childhood dental care programs. Then, he added, the city could revisit the issue a few years down the road if the community isn’t satisfied.
Councilman Lucas Frerichs said Tuesday he’s not yet sold on fluoridation, but he’s ready to hear what the advocates have to say.
“I’m very much open-minded and am certainly willing to sit down with everybody,” Frerichs said.
— Reach Tom Sakash at email@example.com or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash