SHERIDAN — The city of Sheridan began conventional upgrades to its two water treatment plants earlier this month. The overall purpose of the upgrades is to address new Environmental Protection Agency regulations, Utilities Manager Dan Roberts said. The city will make other minor improvements at the same time, including the addition of necessary equipment to add fluoride to Sheridan’s water supply.
Water fluoridation has been a controversial topic in Sheridan in the past, dating as far back as 1954 when a local attorney lead a successful campaign to cease the addition of fluoride to Sheridan’s water, which was implemented in 1949.
In December 2010 when City Council passed Resolution 60-10 allowing fluoride levels to be monitored and the public works department to incorporate into its budget the equipment needed to add fluoride, debate again spiked in Council meetings and letters to the editor. Recently, a petition requesting the city not add fluoride to its water has been circulating, garnering more than 400 signatures since early July.
At this point, however, the city is taking the opportunity provided by the required upgrades to add the needed equipment for water fluoridation to both the Big Goose Water Treatment Plant and the Sheridan Water Treatment Plant and move the process forward.
Conventional upgrades to the treatment plants are slated to be finished by July 2014, Roberts said.
“It’s the perfect time to do it,” Roberts said. “It’s going to be about a $4.5 million project, and when you’re spending that kind of money to do upgrades it’s the perfect time to implement the equipment, at least make it available so that if and when you want to add the fluoride, then that opportunity is available.”
Upgrades at both water treatment plants will cost approximately $4.5 million. Upgrades needed to meet the EPA’s new LT2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule will comprise 92 percent of the total construction cost, Roberts said. Other minor plant improvements, including the addition of fluoride equipment, will make up the remaining 8 percent — about $360,000 — of the total project cost.
The EPA’s new Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule will require new or improved treatment systems at plants that detected cryptosporidium in their water supply over a two-year sampling period, Roberts said. Plants were categorized into four “Bin Levels” to stipulate treatment regulations.
Sheridan’s concentration level of cryptosporidium — a microscopic parasite that can cause diarrhea — was .1 oocyst/L, placing it in the Bin 2 classification of .075/L to 1.0/L, which requires a few new treatment measures to meet EPA regulations regarding turbidity and the presence of cryptosporidium. Turbidity is the term used to refer to the cloudiness of water due to the presence of suspended particles.
As of Oct. 1, Sheridan’s treatment plants will be required to meet more stringent turbidity standards that will be lowered to .15 from .3. Roberts said water treatment plant operators already operate the plants in such a way to meet the EPA guidelines by retreating water with high turbidity levels, but the upgrades will make regulation easier and more consistent and cost effective.
Upgrades will include improvements in filtering, chemical dosing, mixing capabilities, sedimentation flow, and the addition of a new air scouring system at the Sheridan plant to improve filter cleaning and lengthen filter life. Both Big Goose and Sheridan treatment plants use a conventional treatment process to treat surface water. They add chemicals (called flocculant) to the water and mix them together so that particles in the water adhere to each other and create a larger floc that will fall out of suspension in the water, allowing it to be removed. The treated water is passed through filters to remove smaller particles, disinfected with chlorine and goes to storage before being distributed.
Upgrades needed to add fluoride to Sheridan’s water supply include the addition of holding tanks for bulk storage of the fluoride and specialized containment areas for the holding tanks that are required in building code to be enclosed buildings. Specialized containment is required because fluoride is an acid, Roberts said. Pumps and piping to get the fluoride to the water will also be added.
Big Goose Water Treatment Plant already has a facility for chemical storage that will be converted. At the Sheridan plant, upgrades will include an extension on the present chemical storage building.
Roberts said the cost of $360,000 to enable the addition of fluoride is well below his original estimation of $1.8 million a year ago in the capital improvement plan.
In December 2010, the debate about water fluoridation centered on whether its seeming health benefits — primarily reduction of tooth decay and prevention of cavities — outweighed dangers caused by ingesting too much fluoride that can include discoloration of teeth and skeletal fluorosis. In 2010, the state health department presented Sheridan with a petition signed by nearly every dental office in town asking for the city to consider adding fluoride to its water.
Still, dissenters argue that fluoride is meant to be applied topically, not ingested.
With water treatment plant upgrades scheduled to be complete July 2014, fluoride in Sheridan’s water could become a reality within a year. Roberts said the city is set to launch a public education effort soon that will address the American Dental Association’s arguments for fluoridated water and what residents will need to do once it begins, such as stopping fluoride treatments to avoid an overdose of fluoride.
At both treatment plants, fluoride will be dosed at levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The currently recommended level is 1 part per million, but there is talk about lowering that to .7 parts per million, Roberts said. Whatever level is recommended is what will be followed. The Big Goose and Sheridan Water Treatment plants currently record fluoride levels of approximately .3 parts per million.
Back in December 2010, Mayor Dave Kinskey directed city staff to try to find a way to provide non-fluoridated water to residents who didn’t want fluoride, possibly through a tap at the treatment plants that would provide water before the addition of fluoride.
Roberts said at this time, however, no plans are in place to provide that alternative, citing security issues at the plants. Access to the Sheridan Water Treatment Plant crosses private land, and the plant recently installed a new security gate.
Kinskey has noted recently that residents who do not want fluoride in their water can buy a filter system to remove it.
SAWS customers also impacted
County Commissioner Steve Maier noted in an interview with The Sheridan Press that he recently learned that the treatment plant upgrades would include the ability to add fluoride to the water, which will affect county residents who are part of the Sheridan Area Water Supply system. Maier said the issue of water fluoridation has never been mentioned in SAWS Joint Powers Board meetings, which include members of City Council and the Sheridan County Commission.
SAWS contracts with the city to provide water services — including billing and water treatment — to its customers. There are currently approximately 1,700 SAWS customers who use water treated at the Big Goose or Sheridan water treatment plants, Roberts said.
Maier said no SAWS customers have expressed concern about water fluoridation to this point.
“The topic has never been broached to us, and frankly we’ve thought about bringing it up at a SAWS meeting, but the reality is, where is it going to go? We’re part of the pie, but just a small part of the pie,” Maier said.
“We kick around those issues all the time about how far government ought to go,” he added. “Do you force things or allow people to make their own decisions? People are speaking, and people are aware that this is the direction the city is heading, and they’re responding, and that’s the way the process ought to be.”