An environmental attorney researching compliance with Teton County and state water quality regulations has asked for an investigation of two commercial septic systems in southern Teton County.
Wyoming Outdoor Council senior conservation advocate Dan Heilig wrote in a letter dated Monday that two systems caught his eye while querying permits and records: underground sewage disposal facilities run by the Hoback Market and, right across the highway, the Hoback RV Park. Both systems are located in an area that has struggled with drinking water quality, and which is being studied for wastewater and drinking water upgrades by a county working group.
“The Wyoming Outdoor Council submitted a public records request to the DEQ on January 30, 2020, requesting copies of permits for the above facilities,” Heilig wrote to Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality Director Todd Parfitt. “The DEQ’s February 6, 2020, response reveals that these facilities lack permits that may be required by the Wyoming Environmental Quality Act and the DEQ’s regulations for the injection of wastewater in waters of the state.”
Dan Leemon, who directs the new advocacy group Protect Our Water Jackson Hole, also signed the letter.
Small septic systems that discharge less than 2,000 gallons a day are permitted at the county level, but larger systems designed to handle more daily sewage fall under the DEQ’s jurisdiction — and they are more closely regulated and monitored.
Hoback Junction business owners and representatives reached Tuesday by the News&Guide stood behind the legality of their systems.
Larry Huhn, co-owner of the market, said that he secured necessary Teton County permits, which date to the late 1990s. The system, he said, is permitted for up to 1,900 gallons a day, but is only handling about 1,000 daily gallons due to investments in water-saving toilets and other efficiency measures.
“I don’t know what complaint they would have,” Huhn said. “If I were a house, I would be pushing more wastewater than they’re looking at.”
A representative for the Hoback RV Park, who didn’t wish to be named, also said that the park’s septic system was permitted and up to code, and that state and federal agencies have not notified the business about noncompliance.
Heilig said in an interview that he doesn’t want business owners to take his inquiry personally.
“I’m looking at every commercial septic permit in Teton County, and these ones had some questions,” Heilig said. “I’m confident that this will all get sorted out, one way or another.”
The location increased the worry, he said. Southern reaches of Teton County are experiencing rising levels of potentially dangerous nitrates in drinking water, and fingers are being pointed at a potential connection to septic systems that are too dense on the landscape, improperly sized or not being maintained.
“According to [a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] database, the Hoback Market and the Hoback RV Park operate public water systems which could be impacted by unpermitted or improperly functioning septic systems,” Heilig’s letter says. “Private water wells in the area could also be impacted by improperly functioning systems.”
Heilig’s concern for the Hoback RV Park septic system stems from a 1999 DEQ letter he got hold of through a records request. The letter, which was shared with the News&Guide, stated that the small community’s leach field had failed, contained above-ground raw sewage and needed to be replaced.
“Here’s a letter from DEQ saying, ‘you need to be permitted under DEQ,’ but there’s no follow up from DEQ,” Heilig said. “The record just goes dark. What happened?”
The Hoback Market system also experienced a late 1990s failure, according to Heilig, who said the record also isn’t clear about the resolution.
Huhn said the market’s sewage disposal system was upgraded in 1998, is actively maintained and is pumped out 6 times a year.
Wyoming DEQ officials, who were unavailable for an interview, said they’re looking into the questions.
“If we find a facility that does not have correct permitting or is operating outside their permit,” DEQ spokesman Keith Guille wrote in an email, “staff will inspect the facility, enforcement actions and/or orders may be issued, and our department will work with the facility to bring them back into compliance.”