An exceptional valley with exceptional water resources deserves exceptional wastewater treatment.

A draft update of the rules for Teton County’s “small wastewater facilities” — primarily home septic systems — fails to provide the level of protection we think most of us need and want.

Sanitation is a basic human need. No one should be exposed to the risk of illness because of inadequate access to safe and effective sewage management. This is especially true in a place that cherishes its natural splendor like we do, and whose economy largely depends on it.

The proposed new rules have welcome updates to permitting the 100 or so new septic systems approved each year. Unfortunately, it does not address the older 3,600 existing septic systems that risk degrading drinking and surface water quality in many parts of the county.

Jackson Hole sits on what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated our “sole source aquifer.” This is the slow-moving river of water that seeps downhill under where we live and work. Most of our drinking water comes from 114 public water system wells that tap that aquifer — many 100 or more feet underground. Once polluted, this clean water aquifer would be nearly impossible to fix.

The EPA urges pumping and inspecting septic systems every three to five years, depending on the size of the tank and number of people in a home. If you use a garbage disposal, EPA wants a clean-out every year.

Much of the nation requires septic owners to do this. Teton County does not. We need to. The cost of pumping a septic is cheap, about $1 per day if you do it every year and much less if it is done every three to five years.

We hope Teton County commissioners will demand our Department of Public Works add a requirement in this rule that existing septic systems be cleaned and inspected on a regular basis and upon sale of a property.

It will likely require a county employee to ensure compliance, but at the rate of sales tax collection, it seems Teton County has the money. We just need to make it a priority. The emphasis we put on clean water should match our community’s standard for environmental stewardship.

If this new rule is to do an exceptional job protecting Jackson Hole’s water, it must address maintenance of existing septic.

Comments can be made before Dec. 20 at

By the News&Guide’s editorial board: Johanna Love, Rebecca Huntington, Kevin Olson and Adam Meyer.

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