If Wichita voters decide Nov. 6 to fluoridate the city’s water, surrounding communities will be affected, too.
About half of Bel Aire’s water comes from Wichita, with the rest from its partnership with Park City in the Chisholm Creek Utility Authority, Bel Aire city manager Ty Lasher said.
Bel Aire will have diluted fluoridated water if Wichita approves fluoridation, Lasher said.
“We’d have to determine are we OK with diluted or do we want to make it up to the recommended rate? ... Based on this vote, there could be a lot of decisions that Park City and Bel Aire have to make.”
That could include whether to try to get out of a contract with Wichita for water, he said.
The towns that get water from Wichita won’t have a say in the issue a week from Tuesday because it’s a vote about whether to adopt a Wichita municipal ordinance ordering the water department to add fluoride.
“If the Wichita water is fluoridated, we don’t have any choice. How fair is that? But we have to take it,” Linda Thom of Bel Aire said. She is opposed to fluoridation mainly because she thinks people should be able to choose whether to ingest fluoride. But because she lives in Bel Aire, she’s removed even further from that choice.
“If we don’t want fluoridation, we can’t move,” Thom said. “I don’t like being forced to do something I don’t agree with.”
Wichita supplies water in full to Eastborough, Rose Hill, Benton, Kechi, Andover, Derby, Valley Center, Bentley, and Rural Water Districts 1, 3 and 8, said Ben Nelson, strategic services manager in the Wichita’s Public Works & Utilities Department. Wichita provides a back-up source for Maize and for Chisholm Creek Utility Authority, which is made up of Bel Aire and Park City, he said.
The governing bodies of Derby and Eastborough voted during the summer to urge Wichita to fluoridate. The Wichita City Council, when faced with a petition drive from residents asking for fluoridation, decided to put the issue to voters Nov. 6.
Officials from some of the smaller cities say they’ve heard from very few residents either for or against fluoridation since.
“I think everybody knows that we aren’t going to get a chance to vote on it,” said John Lehnherr, a member of the Park City council. He said he supported fluoridation before he started looking into the subject for a research paper in college a few years ago. “I changed my view completely,” he said. “It is readily available and easy to get in a way you can control how much you get.”
Lehnherr said that if Wichita decided to fluoridate, he would oppose fluoridating all of Park City’s water.
But that’s what would make sense, the Park City mayor said. Unless there was a surge of opposition from Bel Aire and Park City, the Chisholm Creek Utility Authority would “convert our system to provide fluoride out of our plant for the remainder of the water,” the mayor, Emil Bergquist, said. He is also chairman of the water utility. “That’s the only reasonable thing we can do. You’re not going to have some water coming in from Wichita that’s fluoridated and every time we get 100 percent (water from our utility) now you don’t have fluoride.”
Park City gets about 25 percent of its water from Wichita, primarily during the winter, he said. Because the water system is fairly new, he said, The cost of adding fluoride would be relatively low: about $13,000 to build a new facility for it, and then about 30 cents a month per average customer for the fluoridation.
But in Bel Aire, which gets more of its water from Wichita, the city manager said the city could look at getting out of the contract with Wichita if residents were opposed to fluoridation.
If Wichita adds fluoride to the water, “are we buying what we agreed to buy?” Lasher asked. “Are we still contracted to buy it?”
Wichita city spokesman Van Williams said that city officials did not want to speculate on the contract.
Among the governing bodies of some of the other towns that get their water from Wichita, Andover’s is against it, said Mayor Ben Lawrence. "The governing body of the City of Andover is of the consensus that while there are merits to both sides of the fluoridation argument, additional governmental mandated intrusion into the public health arena is not necessary; especially considering the readily available supply of fluoride," Lawrence said in an e-mail in response to questions. He said he hadn’t heard from any residents. “But it’s not like we have any real say in the matter anyway.”
Derby Mayor Dion Avello said that his city council endorsed fluoridation after a meeting with residents about ways to advance the city. One resident recommended fluoridation. But Avello said he thinks everyone in Sedgwick County who uses Wichita water should get a say.
“You’re affecting the whole county,” Avello said.