Hoback Junction

Hoback Junction residents north of the Hoback River have been urged to periodically test their drinking water due to high levels of nitrates.

After the Teton District Board of Health unanimously approved an investigation into proposed regulations on public water systems, responses from the rules’ architects sounded straight from the thesaurus.

Dan Heilig, of the Wyoming Outdoor Council, was “optimistic,” while Protect Our Waters’ Dan Leemon said he is “encouraged.” The rules the pair proposed would mandate publication of notices if a public water system exceeds nitrate levels of 3 milligrams per liter, which the Environmental Protection Agency says “generally indicates contamination.”

The Teton County Health Department would need to investigate any system that tested at that level two months in a row or three times in one year. Their goal is to keep water systems from approaching 10 milligrams per liter, which the EPA deems hazardous for consumption.

“We want to avoid another Hoback,” Heilig said, referencing the long-running water-quality problems seen in southern Teton County.

The board was generally amenable to the idea of regulating water systems. Under the proposed rules, health officials would investigate pollution and put solutions in place, including having people replace leaky or outdated septic systems.

Members felt the rules were a good step, especially as the county eyes new development. Ingrid Krasnow said she wanted more information on the remedial steps the Health Department would be able to mandate should the rule go into effect.

“There’s a moral issue with identifying unhealthy drinking water in a community and then not having a solution available,” she said.

Even though board members generally supported the tenor of the rules, they didn’t vote on them because of jurisdictional questions. State statutes imbue the board with its powers, and members weren’t sure whether they or the Teton County Board of County Commissioners should be the entity to pass the rule.

With uncertainty around who should make the rule and how contaminated water systems would be dealt with, the board opted to pass a motion asking the Teton County Attorney’s Office and the Health Department to bring it back some answers before going any further.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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