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.

Hoback’s water woes are well documented, and Teton County officials are exploring ways to alleviate them.

The Teton County Board of County Commissioners named water quality as one of its areas of focus for the next year and targeted Hoback Junction as the most important geographic zone. On Tuesday the board will consider hiring a company to lead the process.

“Attention should be first assigned to matters that have compelling evidence of hazards to human health and safety,” says the area of focus report.

Commissioners asked the Teton Conservation District to take the lead in developing a new plan for the area, where public and private water sources have shown elevated levels of nitrates in drinking water for years. They created a steering committee that includes the Conservation District, Public Works and the Teton County Health Department.

The steering committee decided it wanted to convene a formal stakeholder group that could include committee members as well as other experts and those affected by the drinking water issues.

“One option would have been for the Conservation District to facilitate,” district Water Resource Specialist Carlin Girard said. “That would have excluded us from weighing in. Having the opportunity to play more of a role as an advisor was of interest, and the steering committee agreed that would be beneficial.”

To allow the district to participate, the committee needed to hire a facilitator, which the Conservation District did. After sending out a request for proposals the district hired Legacy Works Group, a consulting and project management company that focuses on environmental and conservation projects. The estimated cost of the contract is about $26,000.

This isn’t the first attempt to solve the problem of high nitrates in Hoback’s water. The J-W Subdivision between Highway 191 and the Hoback River paid over $100,000 to install a filtration system that would cover its 16 homes. In 2007 Hoback residents tried to create a water district that could have applied for grants, but residents who weren’t on board stymied the effort.

Involving several agencies in the process will allow the county to assess the problem from all sides, Health Department Director Jodie Pond said. Public Works has infrastructure expertise, and Pond’s agency is well versed in educating the community on the health risks of elevated nitrate levels, which are particularly pronounced for children and pregnant women.

“Our role is the human health standpoint,” Pond said.

At the county commissioners’ Tuesday meeting, the Conservation District will present a memorandum of understanding that stipulates the district can ask the board to cover 50% of the costs associated with the facilitation process, and if commissioners approve the agreement the planning can move forward.

“We don’t foresee any challenges with that,” Girard said. “We spoke on this topic last week, and there were no red flags.”

Though the request for proposals outlined a yearlong planning process, the contract with Legacy Works Group is for a year and a half, Girard said, to give the committee some flexibility. Because the problem is multifaceted and the potential solutions range from simple to complex, the steering committee doesn’t yet have specified outcomes.

Owing to resistance that arose in 2007 from residents uninterested in communitywide solutions, the steering committee wants to determine the scope of the problem and the requisite solutions, then establish what other steps could be taken, including providing water infrastructure to residents who may not have high nitrate levels but want improved water systems nonetheless.

“What I anticipate is we will be coming to a consensus,” Girard said, “that establishes a more long-term vision for how to establish clean water for an interested group of citizens.”

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-5902 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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