MEMBERS of the Southland District Council (SDC) Services and Assets committee have no doubt the council will be asked to fluoridate the region’s eight water supply schemes – despite the community indicating it is unwanted.
A 2007 public referendum revealed 58% of Southland residents (4599 vs 3377) did not want their water supply fluoridated and resulted in many townships ceasing fluoridation processes.
Cr Don Byers thought it was important for SDC to support the community’s views to remain unfluoridated or consider other options.
A report presented by SDC asset manager Bill Witham says a government directive for drinking water suppliers serving more than 500 people will be required to implement fluoridation if directed by the Director General of Health – costing about $100,000 per scheme, excluding operating and monitoring expenses.
Committee chairman Ebel Kremer said “whatever the extra cost there is implementing this, that we certainly tap on central government’s door…”
He expected the council to receive a directive within the next couple of years.
The original Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Act bill, introduced by the National party, had proposed the decision for mandatory fluoridation to rest with individual health boards.
But the oversight was changed to Director General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield holding the sole decision after the government announced the disestablishment of the district health boards in 2021.
Cr Karen Owen said she recognised the decision had moved from the council’s control but wanted to see the community empowered with information around alternative water supplies.
“Rather than waiting to see how reforms roll out, I think there’s a lot we can be doing to empower our local community now.”
Cr Rob Scott said he found the issue’s timing “bizarre and frustrating”.
“They are throwing us something they took control of and now it looks like we have to potentially pay for a decision we can’t have too much say in what gets made.”
He questioned the balance of cost benefits compared to the amount of water actually consumed by humans.
“We are going to have the shiniest teeth on cows because so much of the water doesn’t reach human consumption.”
Dr Bloomfield was required to consult with local authorities to furnish him with implementation, operating and monitoring costs within 40 days of a request being sent.
Dr Bloomfield’s directive to councils to fluoridate would have to specify the compliance date, fluoridation level and the site to be used.
In a letter sent to SDC, he states if a council was to implement fluoridation before Three Waters took control of the council asset, some funding may be available to offset the costs.
“To support early adoption, the ministry has a limited amount of capital works funding available for local authorities that were willing and abet to begin the capital works to fluoridation by the end of 2022,” he says in the letter.
“Local authorities did not need to wait for potential direction from me [Dr Bloomfield].”
Councils which failed to comply with Dr Bloomfield’s directive could face fines of $200,000 and an additional $10,000 per day for each day of non-compliance.