Fluoride Action Network

Fluoride decision catches Southern Californians by surprise

Source: North Country Times | Staff Writer
Posted on February 13th, 2003

A day after the Metropolitan Water District surprised many in the water world by voting to fluoridate Southern California’s drinking water supply, North County officials were still grappling with how the decision will affect their agencies and customers.

Almost all said they were caught off guard by the vote.

Some entities, such as the city of Poway, said they won’t be immediately affected because they treat their own water, won’t be buying any fluoridated “drinking-quality” water from Metropolitan, and have “no intentions” of fluoridating themselves.

Others, such as Encinitas’ Olivenhain Municipal Water District, said they believe that Metropolitan’s decision will lead public health officials to pressure the “holdout” agencies to fluoridate their own supplies if they don’t buy Metropolitan’s fluoridated water.

Still others, such as the city of Oceanside, which has a “blend” of water —- some water it treats itself, as well as some of Metropolitan’s treated drinking water —- worried about being forced to fluoridate to make sure they don’t end up with one-half of their customers getting fluoridated water and the other half unfluoridated water.

Almost all of them, however, said the Metropolitan vote came as a surprise, both from the standpoint they did not know a Metropolitan vote on the issue was coming, and from the fact Metropolitan’s board approved fluoridation, which has been a controversial issue in Southern California.

“I didn’t know it was coming,” said Barry Martin, Oceanside’s director of water utilities.

Fluoridating water supplies has been common for decades in many parts of the country.

The public health officials who requested Metropolitan fluoridate applauded the move Tuesday, calling it a long-overdue public health protection.

But Southern California has resisted fluoridation. Just four cities in Southern California fluoridate.

No cities or water agencies in San Diego County fluoridate; although the cities of San Diego and Escondido say they intend to, and the Helix Water District, which serves La Mesa, El Cajon, Lemon Grove and parts of Spring Valley and Lakeside, is also considering it.

In 1995, the state Legislature passed a bill mandating that all large water agencies fluoridate their supplies, but only if the state or “somebody” gave the agencies the money to do so. To date, the state has not come up with the money to implement fluoridation.

Fluoride is a naturally occurring chemical compound that dentists have used for decades to reduce dental decay. Opponents say fluoride can be poisonous and putting it into the water system amounts to “forced medication.”

For the most part, North County’s major water providers said Wednesday that they had no problems with Metropolitan’s decision.

John Hoagland, director of public utilities for the city of Escondido, said Metropolitan’s decision won’t affect Escondido for two reasons:

* The city treats all its own water, and buys only “raw” untreated water from Metropolitan through the San Diego County Water Authority.
* The city has already decided to fluoridate its own supply, a process that is still in the works.

Oceanside’s Martin, one of the few who said he was troubled by Metropolitan’s decision, said it could force Oceanside to fluoridate its supply. Oceanside, he said, has two “streams” of water. Most of it is from local groundwater supplies that it treats itself. But as much as 30 percent is treated water it buys from Metropolitan.

Because of that, Oceanside could be faced with a situation with some of its customers getting fluoridated water and others getting none —- or many of them getting diluted versions of fluoridated water. That could force Oceanside to put in its own fluoridation system.

“The cost associated with that wasn’t cheap,” Martin said Wednesday. “The package we put together was in the millions of dollars.”

Vista Irrigation District General Manager John Amodeo said his agency also has a “two-streamed” water supply, and Metropolitan’s decision will mean changes for Vista. The Irrigation District buys some water from Metropolitan, but also gets some of its water supply from Escondido’s treatment plant. He said Irrigation District board members had told Escondido officials not to fluoridate Vista’s portion of treated water. Now that Metropolitan plans to fluoridate, Amodeo said Vista will probably ask Escondido to fluoridate its share of treated water as well.

David McCollom, general manager of the Olivenhain Municipal Water District that serves Encinitas, and parts of Carlsbad, Solana Beach and San Marcos, said that like Poway and Escondido, Olivenhain buys only “raw” water from Metropolitan, and won’t be directly affected by Metropolitan’s move to fluoridate. But McCollom said if Metropolitan is fluoridating almost all of Southern California, health departments will probably pressure holdout agencies to fluoridate themselves.

“Once Metropolitan is injecting fluoride into the system I think health departments will step in and give us mandates,” McCollom said.

Dennis Quillan, Poway assistant director of public works, noted that the state has already ordered water agencies to fluoridate if “the state or somebody else” comes up with funding. That, he said, hasn’t happened. And despite pressure, Poway has no current intentions of fluoridating its self-treated water supply unless the state comes up with cash.

Finally, Bill Rucker, general manager of San Marcos’ Vallecitos Water District, verbally shrugged his shoulders when asked about the fluoride issue. Vallecitos buys 100 percent of its water from Metropolitan.

“I’ll have fluoridated water,” he said. “I accept that this is the way that it is.”