MANILA – In considering the prospect of having the Humboldt Bay Municipal Bay Municipal Water District add fluoride to its water supply, the Manila Community Services District’s board of directors wants the input of voters.
The board met last Thursday, June June 21 and unanimously approved a resolution that calls for an advisory ballot election this November on whether or not fluoride is desirable. But board members will still consider other means of gauging community opinion, such as a survey.
The value and effects of fluoride are being debated by the water district’s seven municipal customers. But cost factors are also relevant, Dendra Dengler, the Manila board’s president, said in an interview.
All seven of the district’s wholesale customers – Arcata, Eureka, Blue Lake, McKinleyville, The Humboldt Community Services District, Fieldbrook/Glendale and Manila – have sent letters to the district indicating agreement to pay for a study on the logistics of adding fluoride. But Manila’s letter was qualified, and asked for an analysis of “opt out” methods.
“What if one community doesn’t want it?” Dengler asked. “Do you have to pay to have it put in and then do chemical removal and pay again to take it out of the water?”
She said the CSD board is also considering doing a survey of the community’s water users, as voting may not be the most thorough way to estimate opinion. “What we’re really seeking is a feel for what the community wants and we’re trying to figure out the best way to do that,” Dengler continued.
A ballot election and mail surveying would each carry a price for the CSD and its ratepayers. ”We’re very sensitive to that,” Dengler said.
The water district’s board, meanwhile, has upheld neutrality as its standard and has indicated a desire to let each community decide on its own. So far, those who oppose fluoride have outnumbered those who support it at the district’s hearings. But the results of Arcata’s election on an anti-fluoride ballot measure – it was strongly defeated – have been referred to as a signpost of greater public opinion.
Carol Rische, the water district’s general manager, said letters have been sent to all the municipalities asking for commentary on the scope of the upcoming study. The most challenging scenario seems to be one where a majority of wholesale customers want fluoride and a minority, perhaps of only one, doesn’t.
Asked about that, Rische said there are ways to take fluoride out of water supply but it would have to done “on the other side of the meter,” as the district would modify its treatment plant and send fluoridated water to all its customers.
“There could be treatment techniques to remove the fluoride,” she said. “The question is, who would pay for that, and who would pay for disposal – the fluoride that’s removed would have to be disposed of.”
And as fluoride detractors often point out, the substance is considered a hazardous material when it’s concentrated.
Rische said the Manila board’s double-cost consideration is a “legitimate concern.” And she added that even if a single community like Manila opts out, the district’s board might decide to stop the process. “We might also go ahead and have one community pay to take it out, but if the other six want it strongly enough, they could pitch in and pay that community’s removal cost,” said Rische.
But she also said it’s premature to be entertaining what might or might not happen. “It’s my board’s decision,” Rische continued. “That’s why I view this as a process with our customers and their communities.”
The filing deadline for Manila’s ballot election is in August and approval for it would go before the county’s Board of Supervisors in July.