CALGARY -- Calgary councillors now know how much it would cost to reintroduce fluoride into the city’s drinking water, but a debate about whether it should happen will come at a future meeting. 

Members of the Priorities and Finance Committee received a presentation Tuesday on the costs of the program, but the item was only for information.

A report from the city’s water services department shows fluoridation would cost around $10.1 million in initial capital expenses and about $1 million in annual operating and maintenance costs. It’s also estimated between $2 million and $4 million would be needed for maintenance at some point in the project’s 20-year lifecycle. 

Fluoridation would cost an estimated total of around $30.1 million over the course of two decades. The city would be able to absorb those costs without raising water rates, officials say.

“Current operating and capital budgets do not include the costs associated with fluoridation,” said John Jagorinec, Calgary’s water treatment manager.

“Implementing water fluoridation would not require a rate increase.”

The chemical additive was removed from the city's water supply in 2011 following a contentious debate. Now, the mayor says, council faces three options.

“Number one is don’t do anything, leave the fluoride out. Number two is have a plebiscite on this issue in the next election, as we’ve done in the past on fluoride,” said Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

“Number three is put a motion to reintroduce fluoride into the water supply and see if it has the votes.”

This latest administration review comes after the city’s community and protective services committee accepted a fluoridation report in 2019 from the O’Brien Institute for Public Health. Based on that report, council directed administration to investigate the cost of reintroducing fluoride. 

Calgary’s decades-long fluoride debate 

The debate on fluoride in Calgary goes all the way back to the first plebiscite in 1957. Calgarians marked ballots in another vote in 1989 where fluoride was introduced to the water supply. 

Another plebiscite took place in 1999 that kept fluoride in water for another 12 years. Notice of motions came forward in 2009 and in 2011, and the fluoride bylaw was repealed. 

Following the removal of fluoride in 2011, the city provided $750,000 in one-time funding for the Alex Community Health bus to provide oral care to young children. 

Some doctors at the Alberta Children’s Hospital have suggested dental infections are up 700 per cent since fluoride was removed nine years ago.

“We need to reinstate water fluoridation,” says Juliet Guichon, who is the president of Calgarians for Kids’ Health and is an associate professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. 

“Dental decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood. We are failing the children in Calgary by not helping to protect their oral health.”

Some groups have pointed to negative impacts of fluoride, including concerns about fluorosis, which causes discoloration of teeth.