Friday, March 4, 2005

County forum focuses on water issues

Ordinances likely to address quantity and quality concerns

Express Staff Writer

Developing Green planning consultants Morgan Brown and Martin Flannes held the last of several hearings Wednesday evening on a litany of county regional planning topics. The subject of the final meeting was water supply, water quality and wastewater treatment.

County commissioners contracted with the consultants to lead the forums on topics ranging from transportation and community housing to open space and shared infrastructure, following the initiation of a six-month moratorium on review of development projects on county property greater than five acres.

The lead subject at the meeting Wednesday was a discussion of a septic inspection program, which most people in attendance found important, including municipal wastewater treatment and rural water managers, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and South Central District Health agents, developers and concerned citizens.

The discussion included consideration of an idea to establish a county wastewater maintenance district, which could enforce codes based on state and federal regulatory guidelines that would empower the county in its efforts to protect both ground and surface water from contamination.

Much of the discussion was centered on citizen education, something municipalities like the cities of Bellevue and Hailey are currently busy providing, particularly in terms of water conservation.

Former county commissioner Leonard Harlig said the county needs to get the full scoop on the impact of septic systems and other potential contaminants on the Big Wood River and ground water. Part of the dynamic of the threat is that septic systems have the potential to contaminate potable well water.

"Almost all of the unincorporated residents are on septic systems," Harlig said. "I don't know how much poop can be filtered out ... at some point ground water could go bad on us."

Developer Rod Kegley said including notices in county tax bills informing citizens about how to test and maintain their septic systems and wells could go a long way toward containing contamination.

However, the potential cumulative effects of growth in the Wood River Valley poses risks to the entire ecosystem, said Hailey Public Works Manager Ray Hyde, who added that municipal sewage treatment, septic systems and private treatment plants can be safe if they are maintained properly.

"A lot of positive things can happen if (citizens) are properly educated," he said. "As a purveyor of water I need every mechanism I can have (to protect water and produce clean effluent). I encourage a wastewater sewer district. It enhances wellhead protection."

Jim Walker of Walker Sand and Gravel recommended that an old proposal to build a main sewage line and pump effluent to a central treatment plant south of Timmerman Hill was the best long-term plan for the county.

Flannes and Brown concluded the meeting with a discussion of what a USGS proposed compilation of scientific research about the dynamics of water in the county should include.

Bob Erickson, with South Central District Health, recommended that the study should address the long-term supply of water and the carrying capacity of the land in terms of the number of septic systems the county can handle.

County commissioners hope the discussions will result in a series of ordinances for wellhead protection and wastewater management in addition to recommendations for other growth related topics. Developing Green will now use the community feedback to author a report of recommendations due to be presented to the county in late April.

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