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.

Changes might be afoot in the quest to bring clean drinking water to southern Teton County.

The stakeholder group assembled to address water supply and quality problems that have plagued Hog Island and Hoback presented recommendations Monday to the Teton County Board of County Commissioners. Max Ludington, of Legacy Works Group, facilitated the group’s work and gave its suggestions to commissioners.

“They have three key goals. First is finding a long-term source of drinking water,” Ludington said. “Second, recognizing that while this may take a while, there are interim needs, people with immediate need of access to clean drinking water.

“Third, they wanted to take steps to identify and eliminate sources of contamination.”

Those are tall orders, and tackling the first likely requires the formation of a special district, stakeholders said. The group didn’t recommend whether southern Teton County residents should form a water, sewer or special improvement district, simply that a district be assembled.

Forming any of those districts essentially means residents will pay taxes for the specific purpose of creating a drinking water supply. That would allow the county and residents to begin a Level II study with the Wyoming Water Development Commission to assess the cost and feasibility of drilling a community well and creating infrastructure to connect households to it.

A special district is eligible for funding from the commission, which won’t fund a series of small public wells or a surface-water system but would contribute money to a community well system. Teton County Attorney Keith Gingery told commissioners they needed to move quickly to help residents form the district if they were interested in following the stakeholder group’s recommendations.

“If the path is through the WWDC, forming the district by the end of this year is essential,” he said. “It takes a long time.”

Stakeholders asked the county for $45,564 to cover the costs of forming the district, which include administrative fees, the costs of an election and petitioning. Teton County Director of Health Jodie Pond told commissioners the group wanted to bring its recommendations forward several months ago but the coronavirus pandemic prevented it from doing so.

Even with slashed county revenue because of the virus’ economic fallout, stakeholders recommended the county include the money in this year’s budget. Gingery said the study and construction process could take five years, so any delay could mean people who have unsafe drinking water will have to deal with the problem for longer.

High nitrate levels have affected the area for years, which is part of the reason why stakeholders are asking the county for help. Often, a subdivision developer would foot the cost of creating a special district, then pass that cost onto homeowners when the lots are sold.

The residents are forming the district in response to a health crisis, Pond said, so they want the county to help.

Commission Chair Natalia D. Macker asked that the stakeholders’ request be included in budget talks that are ongoing.

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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