Reintroducing fluoride into Calgary’s water will cost the city a total of $30 million, with annual operating and maintenance costs of up to $4 million.
An administration review coming to the Priorities and Finance committee on Dec. 1 outlines the estimated cost to return fluoride to Calgary’s water. The chemical additive was removed from the city water supply after a contentious debate in 2011.
In 2019, the city’s Community and Protective Services committee accepted a fluoridation report from the O’Brien Institute for Public Health. Based on that, council directed administration to investigate the cost of reintroducing it.
The city report was clear that the estimated costs were not included within the approved water utility budget. Budget revisions would be required and presented to council for approval.
“The operating, maintenance and capital costs will result in additional investments and expenditures, if approved, however they are not of the magnitude that would require an associated increase in water utility rates,” read the city report.
The plan that came back included plans for set up at both Calgary’s Bearspaw and Glenmore water treatment plants. It’s based on a 20-year life cycle.
At the time this was considered, Coun. Evan Woolley, who initiated the motion, said that having a provincial cost component was also important.
“I mean, I’ve never really understood why, just because we’re the one that delivers the water, why we’re the ones that have to deliver what very significantly sits within Alberta Health Services,” said Woolley.
More than half-century debate over fluoride in Calgary’s water
When the original O’Brien report was delivered, several members of the public and the science community were also allowed to present. While the presentations were cordial, the issue itself is contentious.
It first went to a plebiscite in 1957. Calgarians again voted on it in 1989 and fluoride was put in the water. It went to plebiscite again in 1999 and was in Calgary’s water for another 12 years. A notice of motion came forward in 2009 and in 2011, the fluoride bylaw was repealed.
The primary points of debate are around the reduction in tooth decay, especially among children in low income households.
When Calgary removed the fluoride, it also provided $750,000 in one-time funding for the Alex Community Health bus to provide oral health care.
On the other side, the worsening of a condition called fluorosis, the idea of mass medication in the water, along with the occurrence of elevated levels of fluoride in water that makes it into the watershed, are some of the main points of opposition.
During the provincial election, then Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel suggested he would encourage cities, including Calgary, to adopt fluoridation as a public health measure.
Administration has just brought the report forward for information. No action is recommended at this time.