Davis’ City Council soundly rejected a proposal to fluoridate the city’s drinking water in a 4-1 vote late Tuesday after facing heavy opposition from city residents and fearing that anger over the additive could derail Davis’ larger plans to draw water from the Sacramento River.
Voters in March passed Measure I, authorizing city leaders to move ahead on the two-city Surface Water Project with Woodland to augment existing groundwater supplies starting in 2016. But opponents said voters learned only after the election that fluoride could be added.
“Many citizens felt betrayed, that (Davis) may be adding something to the water,” said Alan Pryor, who leads Davis Citizens Against Fluoridation, in the weeks before the Tuesday vote. “It’s truly a moral issue. People were told we would get pure, clean water. They did not give consent to mass medication.”
Davis leaders Tuesday seemed aware that fluoride concerns could undermine the overall project.
“This is one issue that’s not 50-50 – 10-to-1, people are begging us not to put this in the water … A lot of people did not expect fluoride. I’m not willing to risk the water project,” Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson said, adding the city’s charge was to “provide good, clean, reliable water to our city. I don’t think fluoride is a component of that.”
“Nowhere was there mention of fluoridation of the water supply” in the argument for Measure I, said Councilman Lucas Frerichs, who along with Mayor Joe Krovoza helped draft the supporting ballot argument. Both voted Tuesday against adding fluoride to city water.
“It feels almost like a bait-and-switch,” Frerichs said. “It’s pretty frustrating that fluoridation comes up now.”
Only Councilman Dan Wolk voted to fluoridate Davis’ water supply, calling the plan an obligation to protect children’s dental health, particularly those in households with limited access to dental care.
“Fluoride is the right decision,” Wolk said. “I really believe we have a policy obligation to these children.”
His motion was met with silence.
The council’s vote came after more than an hour of public comment and months of meetings and debate that laid bare the deep divide on the issue. On Tuesday, fluoridation opponents sporting decals of the letter “F” crossed out by a red slash sat shoulder-to-shoulder with supporters bearing their own decals that declared, “It’s time for fluoride in our water.”
Supporters say adding fluoride to drinking water is a matter of public health, helping to ensure the oral health of thousands of the city’s residents. Tuesday night, proponents included prominent school and civic officials, as well as health professionals.
They cited decades of research and the endorsement of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which considers fluoridating drinking water one of the 10 great public health achievements of the last century in the United States. Close to 75 percent of Americans live in communities with fluoridated water, according to the CDC, and fluoridation has been endorsed by U.S. surgeons general for a half-century. Local cities with fluoridated water include Sacramento and West Sacramento.
In recent months, fluoridation had earned local recommendations from the Yolo County Board of Supervisors and Davis’ own Water Advisory Committee. But it also met with a high-profile defeat in Portland, Ore., earlier this year.
Fluoridation is “safe, effective and cost-effective,” said Davis dentist Kim Wallace, a member of a Yolo County Health Council subcommittee who helped lead the argument for fluoridation. Showing slides of children with severe dental decay, Wallace said, “This is happening right now in Davis.”
Fluoridation, he said, is “certainly affordable for the city,” adding that “there’s enough room in our existing rate structure that we can do this.”
Fluoride opponents rejected the claims, calling fluoridation harmful to people, the environment and water supply and costly to ratepayers. They said fluoride contaminates water supplies and can lead to fluorosis, a condition that causes damage to tooth enamel and bones by overexposure to the additive.
Pryor said the vast majority of fluoride added to city water would end up on lawns and down drains, calling instead for more focused efforts to combat dental decay.
Adding fluoride at the water project’s planned treatment plant would have cost the city as much as $301,000 before yearly operating costs, according to preliminary city estimates.
Meantime, Davis officials estimated costs anywhere from $837,000 to more than $2 million to add fluoride to the city’s six deep wells – part of the network of wells that now furnish water to Davis residents. Operation and maintenance costs were expected to add nearly $181,000 more to the costs. Fluoridation costs would have added about $2 per month to residential customers’ water bills, according to a city staff report.
Many others queued up to condemn the plan as an undue government intrusion and a widespread medication of Davis residents.
“You have the power to put this mineral in our water, but you don’t have the right to put this mineral in our bodies,” Alan Miller of Davis said after his walk to the podium. “Sometimes the best way to do the right thing is not to exercise your power.”
One fluoride opponent, Jeff Boone, a managing director at Davis-based small business lender California Statewide CDC, pledged $10,000 toward the purchase of a mobile dental van in lieu of adding fluoride to the drinking water.
“Let’s get creative,” Boone said.
Tuesday’s vote is not expected to affect Woodland, said Dennis Diemer, general manager of Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency, the joint powers authority overseeing the Surface Water Project. Woodland has not yet decided whether it will fluoridate its water suppl6,y and the project is designed so that either one of the cities can add fluoride anytime in the future, Diemer said.
In Davis, fluoridation appears unlikely for now.
“I really believe the council looked at the wealth of data and made an intelligent, rational decision with the evidence they had,” Pryor said. “They looked to the science and listened to the citizens. They promised them good, clean water.”