The Water Advisory Committee voted 6-1-1 Thursday to recommend that the City Council proceed with fluoridating the city’s drinking water supply and that it seek out the funding necessary to pay for adding the compound.
The council, which has the final say on the matter, is not likely to make a ruling on fluoridation until the fall, when it returns from its summer recess.
Water committee members have spent the past two meetings listening to arguments for and against injecting fluoride into the water supply from members in the community.
But at another packed meeting Thursday with dozens of community members on both sides of the argument addressing the group on the issue, the majority of the WAC felt it would be hard to contradict an overwhelming number of health organizations that support fluoridation.
“I do believe reading all of this and hearing from people, that the preponderance of evidence for me in my decision-making, with peer-reviewed science and research published and with the experience of successfully implemented fluoridation programs around the state and nation that, I come down on side of recommending to the council that we fluoridate the water,” said committee member Helen Thomson.
However, as the opposition has supplied convincing testimony to the committee throughout this process as well, WAC members appeared to have difficulty deciding which side to believe.
Dentists and other local public health officials have come before the group to explain that, at the right dose, fluoride would address both tooth decay and cavity rates and that it would be an effective way to provide preventative dental health care to those in the community who lack easy access to it.
Toxicologists and other public health professionals, meanwhile, have countered by warning that too much fluoride in the water carries potential dangers for the community, including an increase in fluorosis or even negative effects on the brain, also citing many studies that support their concerns.
At one point, committee member Mark Siegler, the lone committee member to abstain from the vote, wondered if the group was even suited to make this decision.
“We were placed on this Water Advisory Committee to look at the surface water project,” Siegler said. “People have different special expertise that may have provided some insight, whether it was financial, or legal, or operating water plants or what have you, where we could provide advice better than the general public (on the project).
“Personally, I don’t see anyone around this table with any particular insight in terms of recommending fluoridated water or not.”
But in the end, the majority of the group felt they was asked by the council to look at this issue and that it was their responsibility to make a recommendation based on what they knew.
And the consensus appeared to be that while they believe too much fluoride could be a problem, if it is managed properly it would benefit the city.
“From my perspective the advocates that are supporting fluoridation just have a lot more credibility,” said committee member Alf Brandt. “The weight of the opinion is far more on the pro-fluoride (side).”
But before those in the community in favor of fluoridating the city’s drinking water can celebrate, there’s still the matter of how to pay for it.
In the past, the city has been unable to supply fluoridated water because of its prohibitive cost. And with the addition of a new supply of water coming via the Woodland-Davis surface water project, which will go online in just a few years, that cost likely climbs even higher.
Dianna Jensen, the city’s principal civil engineer, presented cost estimates for fluoridation to the WAC on Thursday, saying it would cost Davis about $1 million to $2.4 million up front to configure both the city’s ground wells and the surface water supply for fluoridation, in addition to an ongoing operation and maintenance cost of about $230,000 annually.
That translates to a little less than $2 per month on water bills for customers in Davis.
The council raised water rates citywide in March to begin paying off the water project, but the cost of fluoridation was not assumed in those rates.
Jensen said Thursday the city will not know whether rates were increased high enough to cover the cost of fluoridation until after the final cost of the project materializes later this year when the lone contractor remaining in the bidding process makes its proposal.
If the price of the project comes in higher than expected and the city wants to move forward with fluoridation, it would have to raise rates to cover the cost, Jensen said.
Should the overall project’s cost fall lower than expected, it’s possible that — no matter what the council decides — the city would be forced to fluoridate the city’s drinking water, as state law mandates that public water systems with 10,000 connections or more implement fluoride if funding is available for it.
— Reach Tom Sakash at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash