Fri10242014

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Los Altos may get fluoridated water

Photo Elliott Burr/Town Crier Cal Water's Melinda Ray surveys one of several pump stations that delivers water to Los Altos residents. Funds permitting, residents could soon have fluoride in their water supply.

A district plan to fluoridate Los Altos’ water supply came a step closer to the tap last week.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District, the agency that treats and provides the region’s wholesale water supply, unanimously approved a proposal to add fluoride to the county’s drinking water, a measure intended to prevent tooth decay.

Now it’s a matter of finding a way to fund the multimillion-dollar cost of adding 0.7 parts per million. And officials don’t know how long that could take.

The water district, Silicon Valley’s largest water wholesaler, directed its staff Nov. 15 to work with The Health Trust and the California Department of Public Health to find the $4.4 million to $9.5 million it could cost to implement fluoridation.

While many neighboring cities, such as Mountain View, have a fluoridated water supply, it’s taken the Santa Clara Valley Water District longer due to difficulties in coordinating its retailers, according to a water district spokesman.

“It may be the complexity of our system,” said Marty Grimes, the water district’s program administrator. “We have numerous water sources and numerous water retailers.”

Assembly Bill 733, passed in 1995, requires water retailers with more than 10,000 customers to fluoridate when funding is available from an outside source (not ratepayers), but that provision doesn’t apply to wholesalers.

Fluoride naturally occurs in Los Altos’ public water supply, but, according to Ron Richardson, general manager of the California Water Service Company (Cal Water), which services Los Altos residents, it’s minimal at approximately 0.12 parts per million.

Richardson added that 70 percent of its supply, which also flows to parts of Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Cupertino, comes from the Santa Clara Valley Water District. The rest is from independently operated groundwater wells, which Richardson said are not scheduled for fluoridation.

Two-thirds of Los Altos Hills residents, serviced by the Purissima Hills Water District, have had fluoridated water since 2005.

While many residents, medical professionals and organizations have expressed both support and opposition to fluoride, if the Santa Clara Water District finally does add the mineral, Los Altos public officials won’t object.

“We decided there are a lot of good arguments for and against fluoridation,” said Los Altos Mayor Ron Packard. “But it’s not clear that it’s a health hazard – there seems to be lots of benefits to children’s dental health.”

Dr. Ken Schweifler, a Los Altos dentist who has prescribed fluoride tablets to some of his younger patients, said he’s generally in favor of fluoridation because it is effective in fighting cavities.

“There’s a lot of controversy surrounding fluoride,” he acknowledged. “You could make an analogy with X-rays. If you X-ray someone over and over again, there’s a risk; but there’s also a risk to not (taking X-rays). It’s all about the dosage.”

The water district, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies, wrote in a news release, “The studies found that for communities of more than 20,000 people, every $1 invested in fluoridation yields approximately $38 savings in dental treatment costs.”

Still, the county water district’s support hasn’t tempered some fluoride critics.

Maureen Jones, founder of Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, called the water district’s decision “unethical.”

“For any government or water agency to approve the use of public drinking water as a vehicle to deliver people-treatment chemicals rather than the necessary water-treatment chemicals is, in my opinion, breathtakingly unethical,” she wrote in an email to the Town Crier.

For more information, visit www.valleywater.org.

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