The City of Bonney Lake has joined six water utilities and a grass-roots group in the escalating legal fight against local fluoridation.

Bonney Lake has filed the latest lawsuit against the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department in an attempt to stop forced fluoridation of drinking water. The lawsuit was filed Nov. 8 in Pierce County Superior Court.

The health board recently voted to fluoridate drinking water to prevent and control the spread of tooth decay and related disease. The Oct. 2 order affects 14 water supplies serving 238,000 people throughout the county, including Lakewood, Milton, Steilacoom, Parkland and Spanaway. They must comply by Jan. 1, 2004.

Officials in Bonney Lake, the first city to sue, said the health board cannot order a city to fluoridate its water.

“They just want to slam-dunk this thing,” said Steve Bricker, a Bonney Lake city councilman and fluoride opponent.

Health officials said they acted legally and have offered funding to help pay for adding fluoride to water systems. Despite a growing pile of lawsuits against it, the health department will try to help the 14 utilities prepare for fluoridation, said Brad Harp, an agency hydrogeologist.

More than 300,000 Pierce County residents already have fluoride in their drinking water. Tacoma, Fircrest, University Place, Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base all have fluoride in their water supplies.

But Bonney Lake officials say the the fluoride order violates their water customers’ constitutional due process rights to “refuse medical treatment and to preserve their bodily integrity.”

Bonney Lake estimated it would cost about $700,000 to insert fluoride into its four-source water system, which also serves the unincorporated Lake Tapps area and a slice of the City of Auburn. The Bonney Lake water system has more than 9,100 water connections serving more than 23,000 people, city officials said.

But county health officials, after consulting with the 14 water utilities, estimated that it would cost about $6,000 to supply each water source with fluoride equipment. So Bonney Lake’s equipping cost could be as low as $24,000 for four separate sites.

Bricker called the health department estimate too low and “laughable.” The city hired a consultant to check health department estimates and came in with the much higher cost figure, City Councilman Dan Swatman said.

At least one Bonney Lake water source doesn’t have room to attach fluoridation equipment, he said, and the city will need to acquire more land. Other wells are drilled in environmentally sensitive or undeveloped areas, which drives up retrofitting costs.

Bonney Lake officials mailed a survey to customers and received a 29 percent return. Three-quarters of those people opposed fluoridation, Bricker said.

“We have such wonderful water,” said Louisa Smith, a Bonney Lake businesswoman and long-time resident. “It’s just great. Let’s not fool around with it.”

Last year, the rapidly growing city of 12,360 people considered buying Tacoma water for use during hot weather when the city might run short, but the Bonney Lake City Council turned down the plan. One reason: Tacoma water contains fluoride, Bricker said.

Other lawsuits have been filed by the Lakewood Water District and Citizens Opposing Fluoridation in Pierce County, and a lawsuit jointly filed by Mountain View-Edgewood Water Co., Parkland Light and Water Co., Fruitland Mutual Water Co., Spanaway Water Co., and Summit Water Supply Co.