​SUD Will Vote on Discontinuing Fluoride

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Aug. 27 meeting, the Sewanee Utility District (SUD) Board of Commissioners decided to vote on discontinuing adding fluoride to the drinking water supply. Ending the practice requires a 30-day notice to customers before the official vote. The board also decided to begin announcing service interruptions on Sewanee Classifieds in addition to official SUD communication channels, and discussed the 2020 Capital Improvement Budget.

“The number of water utilities that have stopped feeding fluoride has increased,” SUD manager Ben Beavers said. “When adding fluoride started in the 1940s and 1950s it was a boon, but the way food is processed has changed.” Research shows fluoride prevents tooth decay, but today many foods and beverages are prepared with fluoridated water. The SUD water plant operator responsible for adding the chemical suggested SUD discontinue the practice.

Fluoride feed costs SUD $6,000 a year, Beavers said, and corrodes equipment used for the process.

Board member Art Hanson said he’d observed most schools now provided children with bottled water, so continuing with fluoridation would likely not benefit children with well water at home.

The SUD commissioners unanimously favored a vote to end the practice. Customers will receive a notice inviting comments and announcing the October meeting vote. As required by law, Beavers will notify the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Health Department of the decision.

Commissioner Paul Evans suggested announcing service interruptions on Sewanee Classifieds. Evans said he was “taken aback” by a community member’s “definitive statements” on Classifieds about a SUD service interruption. SUD already announces service interruptions on Facebook and Twitter. “Classifieds is another avenue to reach the community,” Evans noted.

Turning to the proposed 2020 Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) budget, Beavers stressed the budget focused on “things that can save money in the long run.”

For 2019, SUD will come in under budget on CIPs, spending only $12,500 of the $13,500 allocated. “We can usually do $250,000 in capital improvements without increasing water rates,” Beavers said.

The 2020 CIP budget assigns $35,000 to leak detection equipment and surveys. The projected 2021 CIP budgets allocates $320,000 for replacing the deteriorating cast iron pipe on Tennessee Avenue. Beavers hopes by identifying the areas leaking that amount can be reduced by repairing only flawed areas of pipe.

Leak detection surveys “can pinpoint leaks down to a 10-inch section of pipe,” Beavers said.

Another cost saving measure for 2020 calls for new, more efficient Variable Frequency Drives (VFD) on pump motors at the water plant and Lake Jackson, cost $30,000. VFDs can decrease power consumption by 40 percent.

The other big-ticket item, a new tractor and loader, cost $25,000, comes with an attachment that will enable SUD to service the field roads at the wastewater treatment plant.

Addressing SUD’s ongoing concern with unaccounted water loss, the difference between the amount of water treated at the plant and the amount registered as sold on customer meters, Beavers said he recently learned there were two meters at Spencer Hall. One meter, which SUD was totally unaware of, was damaged and not recording water usage. The meter was evidently installed when Spencer Hall was constructed in 2008. SUD will replace the meter and get a 12-month usage estimate for reparation purposes.

Beavers announced plans to hire one or two employees. The water plant and wastewater treatment plant operators were both leaving, Beavers said. A current employee will train for the water plant operator position and licensing. The sewer plant operator position would be “a path for someone interested” to move into a higher paying job with more responsibility, Beavers pointed out.