A long-standing water war in Salt Lake’s east bench could be reaching its end, with fluoridation foes in Holladay winning the ability to vote whether to include the chemical in their water system.

After nine years of fighting, including a three-year court battle between Holladay and Salt Lake County, the Utah Legislature passed SB29, which Gov. Jon Huntsman signed Monday.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Stowell, R-Parowan, gives Holladay residents the right to vote whether to add fluoride in their water.

“The bill is about private property rights,” said former state Sen. Delpha Baird, one of the leaders of Holladay’s anti-fluoridation movement. “We should be able to vote on whether we want fluoride or we don’t want fluoride.”

Twice before — in 2003 and 2006 — Holladay water users have said “No” to the additive, most recently with 78 percent of the shareholders in the Holliday Water Co., defined essentially as anyone who pays a water bill, voting against the additive.

“They’re the ones who own our company and that’s why we were in favor of honoring what their request was,” said Marlin Sundberg, general manager of the Holliday Water Co.

But that flew in the face of a Salt Lake County mandate, approved by voters in 2000, that the water systems in the county needed to add fluoride.

Holliday Water purchased the equipment to add the fluoride, but it has sat idle for years as the company turned to the Legislature seeking the ability for shareholders to opt out of the county requirement.

And Salt Lake County sued Holliday Water trying to force compliance and won a ruling from the 3rd District Court last May. Holliday has appealed the ruling and is scheduled to go before the Utah Court of Appeals in April.

“Fluoride, for us, is a public health issue. It’s been shown for many years to be the most effective method of preventing tooth decay,” said Gary Edwards, director of the Salt Lake Valley Health Department.

Steven Steed, dental director with the Utah Department of Health, testified before the Senate committee that dental disease is the most common chronic condition among children, with 55 percent of those between the ages of 6 and 8 showing signs of dental disease or decay.

And Edwards said that dentists won’t prescribe fluoride supplements to Holladay children, because there’s no way to know how much fluoride they’re getting from other water systems.

Baird says there’s no need to fluoridate. She says fluoride occurs naturally in Holladay’s water at about 75 percent of the recommended level.

Plus, for Holladay’s population, which is the oldest in the valley, more fluoride doesn’t help, said Baird.

“The county makes me crazy. They don’t care about the people,” she said. “Why would we, a small water company, want to pay that huge amount to do that to our beautiful water that comes underground from Mt. Olympus? … It’s absolutely stupid.”

But the passage of SB29 might bring an end to the battle, says Sundberg.

If private water systems like Holladay’s are allowed, under the law, to vote to opt out, Salt Lake County’s arguments might be moot and Holladay may be able to continue to hold out against fluoridation.

Caption under photo

Doug Hansen, plant manager for Holiday Water tests the unused flouridation system about once a month just to make sure it will work if it is eventually used. SB29 in the past legislative session allows Holladay to vote whether or not to fluoridate their water. Holliday Water bought fluoridation equipment years ago but hasn’t used it.