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.

A water manager from Australia recently told Carlin Girard a horror story.

It didn’t involve ghosts, ghouls or goblins. Instead, it was an esoteric horror story that only scares people like Girard, the water resource specialist at the Teton Conservation District. The Australian told Girard about a water systems project he was working on that featured a 400-mile distribution pipe.

“That’s Jackson to Cheyenne,” Girard said.

Such projects are not uncommon in arid locales, but as a headwaters region, western Wyoming is generally blessed with abundant, clean water. That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems, like the high nitrates found in drinking water in some neighborhoods in Hoback.

That’s why the conservation district and other agencies have named a stakeholder group to meet with representatives of a steering committee that includes the district, Public Works and the Teton County Health Department to devise solutions for the poor-quality drinking water in the southern Teton County hamlet.

The stakeholders are for the most part Hoback residents or from nearby areas a Wyoming Water Development Office study identified as potential water sources, like Camp Creek, Hog Island and Bryan Flats.

The steering committee also looked for folks who showed a particular interest in past movements to build water infrastructure in Hoback.

“When they had a meeting here at the firehouse, I had the most questions,” said Rod Lewis, a member of the stakeholder committee.

Lewis, who owns Rent-A-Raft and lives behind the Hoback firehouse, has water you can “wash dishes or take a shower in” but not drink, he said. He doesn’t bring much technical know-how, but Girard said the steering committee wanted stakeholders who would be affected by any changes.

However, the group includes people with technical expertise, too.

Ty Ross is an engineer who lives in Hog Island and was part of the area’s improvement and service district that formed and then disbanded. Ross said the main focus of the process is Hoback, but people in Hog Island are still in need of reliable water and sewer utilities as well.

“That’s partly why I’m interested in being on the committee,” Ross said. “There’s definitely interest in re-forming an ISD, not just the original service area we identified but even further south.”

Because of the disparate needs of Hoback households — from the high nitrate levels in neighborhoods north of the Hoback River to wells whose supply is intermittent — Girard and the other agencies know the process won’t be easy. They’re looking for solutions that can address the most pressing issue of the nitrate levels and possibly give other neighborhoods the chance to tie in.

Such a process will require community buy-in, so the steering committee has planned an event from 3 to 7 p.m. Oct. 22 at the Hoback firehouse for people to meet stakeholders and have their water tested for nitrates. Anyone can bring in a jar of water for testing, though the target audience is those who feel they are at risk.

To have water tested, the steering committee said in a press release, let your water run for at least three to five minutes, then rinse a pint or quart widemouth jar three times with the water to be tested. Fill it to within a half-inch of the top. The water should be less than 30 hours old when tested.

If your water shows elevated levels, you can purchase a more precise kit for $25 that will also test for total coliforms and fluoride.

The stakeholders will meet several times over the next year with the steering committee and facilitator Max Ludington from Legacy Works Group before voting on recommendations to send to the Teton County Board of County Commissioners. Agency and stakeholder alike seem resigned to the fact that some people won’t buy into whatever solution is accepted, but they also are determined to solve the problem.

“People are going to want what they want,” said Larry Huhn, Hoback Market owner and stakeholder group member. “But I want municipal water down there.”

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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