Major Calif. city moves toward water fluoridation

2008 11 10 11 04 21 112 Fluoride 70

The Santa Clara Valley Water District, which serves most of San Jose, CA, is one step closer to fluoridating the water supply of one of the most populous cities in the U.S.

On November 19, a committee of the water board of directors unanimously agreed to recommend to the full board that fluoridation begins at its three treatment plants and cleared a major funding hurdle, sourcing the $6.6 million needed to complete the project.

"The three board members agreed with the staff's recommendation, which was to bring to the full board a proposal to fund the rest of the cost of the project, and to do that for all three treatment plants," Marty Grimes, supervising program administrator for the Santa Clara Valley Water District, told The Campbell Wellfield, which is only used for backup purposes, will not be included in this project.

Funding comes from the Health Trust, a Silicon Valley nonprofit promoting wellness, which contributed $1 million; First 5 Santa Clara, a children's advocacy group, which pitched in $900,000; and the California Dental Association Foundation, which contributed $500,000.

“If this is something that the community wants, they need to pay for it.”
— Don Gage, Santa Clara Valley Water

"The remaining balance for us to pay is $4.6 million," outgoing water board member Don Gage told "That would treat the three plants and provide [fluoridated] water to most of San Jose and Cupertino and all but the southern cities."

The remaining $4.6 million will likely be covered by taxpayers, as will the $1 million in estimated annual maintenance and service costs the district will charge retailers.

"In addition to a treated water surcharge, another possible source of funding would be a 1% ad valorum property tax that the water district gets," Grimes explained. "We use that money for various purposes, but the board could decide to use some of the money to offset the costs."

Uncertain future

At this point, water fluoridation in San Jose is not guaranteed; the full board will vote on the issue later this year or in early 2013, Grimes added.

"They would consider the same thing: the committee's recommendation," he said.

Gage is wary of the public's response to higher water bills.

"We would have to charge a surcharge on the plants, which would probably be about $9 a month more per household's water bill," he said. "That's of concern to me because if you raise it at all, people complain. We're accepting the money, but everyone has to know about the increase in rates that is due to fluoridation costs."

Gage also contends that only 2% of the public water supply is used for drinking.

"The rest goes through your toilet, onto your lawn, and stuff like that. So you're wasting 98% of this fluoride in nondental ways," he said. He also referenced competing perspectives from health advocates about the benefits or potential for harm from fluoridated water.

The board's next vote comes at a time of transition in the district. Gage is departing after a successful run for mayor in the city of Gilroy and will be sworn in on December 7. And two new board members have just been elected to the water district.

"They felt it would be appropriate for the proposal to go before the full board, not to reconsider the policy, but to consider this funding option," Grimes explained.

Ultimately, the issue of water fluoridation is up to the public, Gage emphasized. An open public meeting could take place as soon as next month, he added.

"If this is something that the community wants, they need to pay for it," he said. "Health Trust, First 5, and others have stepped forward to put forth funding. The rest will come from monthly charges."

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