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Holliday Water won't have to fluoridate its supply -- at least for now.

Under a recent decision by the Utah Supreme Court, the water company will not have to fluoridate its supply, despite a 2000 Salt Lake County ordinance that requires fluoridation. The company argued that as a private corporation, it was exempt.

Holliday shareholders voted not to comply with the ordinance when it was introduced, said manager Marlin Sundberg. The company is run like a co-op, with all customers having a share in the system. Voters rejected fluoridation on two separate votes, each with more than 70 percent of shareholders voting against.

"We felt we had to honor the wishes of our shareholders," Sundberg said.

The Utah Legislature agreed, enacting a law in 2009 that exempts "corporate public water systems" from having to comply with the ordinance.

The question is now whether the water company has a contractual obligation -- in place before the law changed -- to fluoridate its water. That question is currently pending in 3rd District Court.

Salt Lake County firmly believes Holliday is required to comply, based on the county ordinance, said Gary Edwards, executive director of the Salt Lake Valley Health Department. There is no state statute mandating fluoridation, but if the judge determines there is a contractual obligation, Holliday would need to fluoridate.

The county believes the matter is an important question of public health. "Fluoridation has been proven by numerous groups to have positive dental health benefits," Edwards said.

Water issues between Holliday and Salt Lake County can get a little murky. Self-contained systems, such as the White City Water Improvement District, do not mingle their supplies with Salt Lake County, exempting them from the ordinance.

But Holliday's water does mingle with the county's at the Salt Lake City water treatment plant, Sundberg said. Between one-third and one-fourth of Holliday's water comes from Salt Lake City, and is therefore fluoridated.

Even if Holliday did not receive water from Salt Lake City, shareholders would still be getting a dose of fluoride. The natural fluoride level at the Holliday spring is at .558 part per million, said Sundberg, not far from the county's target of .7 parts per million. Extra fluoride coming from Salt Lake City water seeps into the ground, remixing with the ground water and slowly raising fluoride levels over time.

Holliday's water could come into compliance, Sundberg jokes, before the long-running court battle is settled.

What's next

The 3rd District Court is currently determining whether Holliday Water has a contractual obligation to fluoridate its water. The implied contract is based on a 2000 referendum in which Salt Lake County voters approved fluoridation of all public culinary water in the county.