Fluoridation of water supply

Published on 27 July 2022

Photo showing underground water supply.

Council’s Water Services Manager Andrew Venmore said Council received a letter from the Manatū Hauora (Ministry of Health) on Wednesday 27 July 2022, directing it to start fluoridating the Whangarei water supplies by 31 December 2023 and the Bream Bay water supplies by 30 June 2024.

Whangarei District Council can apply to the Ministry of Health for $2.9M to install the technology to add fluoride to the District’s main water supplies, and for $100,000 a year to cover the annual operation costs.

“The Director General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, acknowledged the costings we had provided and said that the Ministry would be providing capital works funding and we would be advised how to apply in coming months," said Mr Venmore.

“He said the Whangārei and Bream Bay communities (populations 56,530 and 14,800 respectively) would each receive significant benefit, through improvement to the state of its oral health, because fluoridation of each water supply would significantly reduce the prevalence and severity of dental decay in its community.  

“He acknowledged the estimated capital cost of introducing fluoridation for the Whangārei supply would be $1,700,000, that the estimated capital cost of for the Bream Bay area supply would be $1,200,000 and that the ongoing management and monitoring costs were estimated to be over $100,000 per annum across both water supply areas.”

Mr Venmore said Council would now start preparing for the transition.

“Our Council has not been fluoridating any of its water supplies since a referendum in 2002 when 62% of responders opposed fluoridation. Over the past 20 years Councils have re-affirmed that decision through the Long Term Plan process and have not allocated any funding for fluoridation in current or future budgets, so we will need help with this change.”

Mr Venmore said the direction from the Ministry came at a time when the sector was facing many changes – some local, some national. 

“Fluoridation is just another part of the mix but it comes at a time when our income from water supply has taken a hit through RefiningNZ closing its refinery,  and our expenses are increasing to meet the requirements of the new water regulator, Taumata Arowai. The result of those alone has been a 31% increase in water rates to over $3 per cubic metre, so we will be grateful for the Ministry of Health funding for this new requirement. 

“We can now start preparing for this change. Work on the Whau Valley Water Treatment Plant can begin as soon as funding is available. Whau Valley provides most of the water to Whangarei City including the Central and Northern suburbs. When we built the new Whau Valley plant (opened in 2021) we provided space for fluoride dosing equipment if needed in future. The Ruddells Water Treatment Plant could be completed by the end of 2023 and the Poroti Water Treatment Plant could be worked into upgrades programmed for 2025. The two treatment plants at Bream Bay (Ahuroa and Ruakaka) should be easier to upgrade and it is anticipated these could be done, resourcing permitting, during the 2023 / 2034 financial year.

“Of course, these timeframes are dependent on adequate funding and resources including consultants, contractors, and staff, and materials being available. If external funding is not available, other projects will need to be removed from Council’s water projects list over these years to avoid further water rates increases.”

Mr Venmore said elected members have indicated that they would not be keen to do this and have indicated strongly that full funding from the Ministry of Health should be requested for both the capital and operational costs of fluoridation.