Wish list for water
Water quality was key to our first land use plan in 1978 – but since then, water seems to have all but disappeared in our Comprehensive Plan (Comp Plan) which guides the future growth and development of our community. Despite earnest discussions among Town Council and the Board of County Commissioners about water quality in the Comp Plan Update, little seems set to change in our updated plan. Only a few changes, such as developing a water quality enhancement plan and better coordinating water quality monitoring, are proposed. This simply does not go far enough to protect our water, not when nitrates are rising across the valley and inadequate wastewater management threatens our sole source of drinking water. That’s why we wrote our own wish list for water in our updated Comp Plan.
Teton County’s water quality problems are the result of decades of neglect, inattention, complacency, and absence of adequate regulatory oversight at all levels of government. Preserving the status quo is no longer an option.
What’s on the top of our list?
1. Recognize access to clean water as a human right and fundamental to our quality of life by adding a new chapter dedicated solely to protecting water quality.
Access to clean and affordable drinking water and pristine surface waters are so fundamental to achieving the quality of life that a new chapter needs to be dedicated to restoring, protecting and enhancing water quality, which includes, first and foremost, protecting and securing our community’s drinking water supplies. It also includes ensuring that our streams, lakes and rivers are safe to swim in without contamination from dangerous levels of E. coli or toxins from hazardous algal blooms. Key issues to address include protecting –and demanding accountability from– the 114 Public Water Systems currently operating in Teton County; moving forward with countywide wastewater planning; adopting revised regulations for Small Wastewater Facilities which incorporate recommendations from the U.S. EPA for septic systems located in sensitive environments; establishing a new position in county government to oversee water quality protection efforts, and developing the necessary infrastructure to deliver essential community services such as water and sewer.
2. Reserve space to adopt the yet-to-be-completed wastewater management plan.
Thus far, the absence of a comprehensive wastewater management plan has led to haphazard, case-by-case decisions involving wastewater treatment and disposal. As a result, environmentally-sensitive areas of the county that should be connected to a centralized wastewater treatment facility are dependent on individual septic systems that are notoriously inefficient at removing pollutants from wastewater before it enters groundwater (something our 1978 study explicitly recognized). The county’s recent decision to move forward with wastewater planning is a significant step forward and will provide critical guidance regarding our community needs for the decades ahead.
3. Add a strategy to update the county’s small wastewater facility (septic) regulations with the strongest water quality protections.
The county’s regulations were approved over ten years ago and don’t comply with standards set by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, and the updated regulations should follow the EPA’s guidance for septic systems located in sensitive and vulnerable environments.
4. Add a strategy to adopt new regulations for Public Water Systems that requires early intervention when nitrates begin to rise.
Hoback is the canary in the coal mine for water quality in Teton County, but water regulators don’t become involved until the EPA’s threshold is surpassed, even though risks for pregnant women and children appear much earlier. That’s one of many reasons that we fully support the new proposed rule for the Board of Health and why we’re calling for wastewater planning before approving any new development in Northern South Park.
5. Add a policy requiring all 114 Public Water Systems serving Teton County residents to develop (or update) Source Water Assessments and Source Water Protection Plans.
Wyoming is the only state that does not require these commonsense protections which determine the origin of water sources for public water systems, threats to water quality, and measures to prevent contamination.
Help grant our wish for clean water before Sept 28
Both the town and county planning commissions will recommend changes to our Comp Plan at a meeting on September 28th, with the final decision to be made by Town Council and the Board of County Commissioners on October 5th. Email your representatives and ask that they add in and adopt the above changes in the Comp Plan.
County Commission: email@example.com
Town Council: firstname.lastname@example.org