Only Portland City Council will decide whether to fluoridate

When it comes to the issue of whether to fluoridate the water supply, as goes Portland, so goes Tualatin.

In the Portland metro area, only the city of Beaverton currently fluoridates its water. But the fluoride debate has gained momentum once again, with proponents in the dental and health industries arguing that regions with a fluoridated water supply have lower rates of cavities and tooth decay, and that non-fluoridated water unduly impacts low-income residents who have less access to dental care. Prominent in the debate is the American Dental Association’s statistic that Portland is the second-largest U.S. city (behind San Jose, Calif.) to not add fluoride to its water supply.

While Tualatin has yet to weigh in on the issue, the city of Portland’s planned Sept. 6 vote on whether to fluoridate essentially means the decision will be made for Tualatin, since Tualatin receives its supply through a contract with the City of Portland Water Bureau.

And with the support of Portland Mayor Sam Adams, it’s expected that fluoride will soon be appearing in Portland’s water.

“What has become clear to me is that our contract with Portland says that we buy potable water from Portland, and that Portland will supply potable water to us,” said City Manager Sherilyn Lombos. “There’s no provision for what is in the water or how it’s treated.”

That means that not only does Tualatin have no say in whether Portland fluoridates its water supply, but that should Tualatin residents reject fluoridated water, the city would have no grounds for breaking its long-term contract with the City of Portland Water Bureau, because the bureau wouldn’t technically be in breach of contract.

“We don’t have any standing because we just buy it,” said Lombos.

Economically, water rates would be expected to rise to meet the cost of fluoridation.

According to Lombos, Tualatin’s contract with the city of Portland’s Water Bureau was set to expire in 2016, but in the absence of any cancellation, automatically renewed itself. Currently, Tualtin’s contract is valid through 2026, and requires five years advanced notice prior to cancellation.

City Councilor Ed Truax, who sits on both the Regional Water Suppliers Consortium and Willamette River Water Coalition, agrees that there’s little Tualatin can do if Portland decides to fluoridate.

“We were not given any prior notification that this was coming up, and we haven’t been asked to weigh in on what our opinion about this would be,” he said. “Our choice is to buy water from the city of Portland or not. Right now we’re just in a position as very interested bystanders to see what the outcome of (the Sept. 6) hearing and city council vote is going to be.”

There aren’t many viable alternatives however, he said. Getting water from the Willamette River would require a vote from Tualatin residents, and other options have proven to be prohibitively expensive.

“We’re in a position where our choice from a realistic standpoint is to continue our contract with Portland,” Truax said. “My preference forever and ever has been to get our water from the city of Portland. That continues to be my preference, even if they fluoridate.”

Lombos urged interested Tualatin residents to attend the Sept. 6 hearing at Portland City Hall.

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