HILLSBORO — Whether to fluoridate drinking water is not a top issue for the city’s Water Department, and an advocacy group pushing for fluoridation now is focused on school funding.
After Stand for Children began lobbying Hillsboro in August to add fluoride to its drinking water, city officials said they would study the issue and wait for the result of a Beaverton referendum on fluoridation. In November, Beaverton voters approved the measure.
But a host of technical problems and higher priorities caused the city to put the effort on hold.
“It’s incredibly complex because of the system,” said Tim Erwert, Hillsboro city manager. “There are a lot of political questions; there are a lot of technical questions that need to be resolved.”
As a member of the Joint Water Commission, Hillsboro shares portions of its system with Forest Grove, Beaverton and the Tualatin Valley Water District. In addition, Hillsboro supplies Cornelius, Gaston, the L.A. Water Cooperative and other small users with wholesale water.
If the city added fluoride at the treatment plant in Forest Grove, it would cost about $50,000 to start, Erwert said. But if the city didn’t want to include fluoride for its wholesale customers, the city would have to add it at nine pressure relief-valve stations throughout the city. That would cost at least $1.5 million to buy additional land at the stations and build the equipment for adding fluoride, Erwert said. If the city fed the fluoride into transmission lines that serve the other members of the commission, the cost would be somewhere in the middle, Erwert said.
Forest Grove and the Tualatin Valley Water District fluoridate their water. Beaverton has hired a consultant to study and design facilities to add fluoride to city water, but the City Council has not set a date for the switch.
In addition, Hillsboro has a long list of water projects keeping its staff busy, including building a 15 million gallon reservoir at Northwest Shute and Evergreen roads, refurbishing a 6 million-gallon reservoir and finishing construction of a 6-foot-diameter waterline between Hillsboro and Forest Grove. The city also has not found a suitable candidate for assistant director in the Water Department, Erwert said.
Mayor Tom Hughes said he needs more information from the city staff before he makes a decision on the issue.
Stand for Children eventually would like to see Hillsboro voters get the same opportunity to decide on fluoridation as Beaverton voters, said Audrey Scheidler, an Aloha resident and member of the Washington County chapter of the group. But Stand for Children has to do more research and marshal more support before going to the City Council.
“It’s just resources,” Scheidler said. “It takes people to do that kind of campaign.”
City Councilor Ed Dennis, who supports fluoridating the water, met earlier this month with Stand for Children members and suggested they choose between lobbying for fluoridation and school funding. With the cuts facing schools, he said, that might be a more important fight.
“My personal focus is that one,” said Dennis, who is a staff member for Susan Castillo, the state schools superintendent.
Scheidler said the group will step back from the fluoridation issue for now, but individuals might continue to lobby the city. One group member who plans to continue the fight is Dr. April Love, a retired dentist.
“As a dental professional, I just can’t give it up,” Love said.
Although budgets are tight, Love said adding fluoride is most important when the economy is weak because more people are out of work, don’t have insurance and can’t afford dental care.
Oregon Citizens for Safe Drinking Water will be just as diligent fighting those efforts, said executive director Lynne Campbell. The group, based in Lake Oswego, considers fluoridation forced medication and ineffective in fighting most forms of tooth decay.