Aquifer Protection Working Group Information Meeting:
Information Session On Reclassification to a Sensitive Aquifer
June 23, 2000, City of Pocatello

In Attendance:

Bob Foster, City Councilman; Brian Underwood, City Councilman; Kathy Morter, Portneuf Greenway, Three Rivers RC&D; Darrell Buffaloe, ISU; Ed Bala, Idaho Transportation Department; Bonnie Shaw, citizen; Audrey Cole, DEQ; Tom Mullican, DEQ; Jim Yearsley, School District #25; Steven Smart, City of Chubbuck; Fred Ostler, City of Pocatello; Jenni Light, City of Pocatello; Jim DiSanza, ISU (Facilitator); Roger Chase, State Representative (co-chair); John Welhan, Idaho Geological Survey (co-chair)

Meeting convened at 9:00 a.m. Several handouts were provided.

Roger Chase provided a brief overview. Protection is always an easier, less costly option than cleaning up the aquifer; aquifer recategorization under the Idaho Ground Water Quality Rule is one option to achieve protection and would provide long-term stability in managing protection among local jurisdictions that would survive periodic changes in administration. He noted an inability of local entities in the lower Portneuf valley to work together on such larger issues. In order for aquifer protection to be effective, all entities must be on the same course of action. No decision has been made as to reclassification of the aquifer being the best alternative.

Chase noted that local taxpayers have spent approximately five million dollars in cleanup efforts in the past decade. The State Legislature has appropriated $65,000 that can be expended to study available options for developing enhanced aquifer protection in the lower Portneuf valley. The purpose of these information meetings targeted at local business (last Tuesday’s meeting) and local government (today) is to begin a dialog establishing the need for protection of local drinking water and mechanisms by which that can be achieved.

Jim DiSanza, Facilitator, provided a brief overview of the meeting agenda.

John Welhan provided an overview of the Tuesday, June 20th, meeting. It was the first formal meeting with the business community (draft minutes distributed). In attendance were representatives from, FMC, Simplot, Chubbuck, and Heinz Foods, plus State Rep. Kent Kunz and Senator Evan Frasure. Unfortunately, there was no one in attendance from the builder or realtor industry.

Welhan stated that the working group was formed in November or December 1999 with the intent of disseminating information to the community for the need for protection of the aquifer and the benefits to the public. This is a proactive, evolutionary process. The Rathdrum Prairie aquifer reclassification has been a 20-year process, which has evolved during this period to incorporate or delete elements as appropriate. The State Division of Environmental Quality is looking at the lower Portneuf valley with a lot of interest because we are further along in available data than most communities.

The Rathdrum aquifer has hydrologic conditions similar to the Portneuf Valley aquifer; both are highly permeable gravel aquifers and vulnerable to contamination from surface land use activities. We can look to the type of data available on the Rathdrum aquifer to foresee potential contamination problems in the lower Portneuf valley. A twenty-year record of water quality data available in the Rathdrum aquifer demonstrates nitrate trends reflecting pollutant loading primarily from septic sewage disposal practices. Nitrate contamination in the Rathdrum aquifer is being managed by enhanced management practices which include requirements for new developments to hook up to municipal sewer lines.

Ground water in the lower Portneuf aquifer flows in a northwesterly direction, and has been affected by salt, storm water, septic effluent, and hazardous materials. Land use impacts on the aquifer includes contamination from septic effluent, improperly drilled wells, and residual contamination from past sewage disposal practices (e.g. a sewage lagoon that was located northwest of Indian Hills and phased out in the early 70’s; the old Alameda City septic-sewered area; and the area near Century High School where a CCC work camp was located in the 1930s). The majority of the contamination is believed attributable to septic systems. Significant degradation in water quality has occurred over the last 30 years in the Pocatello water system, as evidenced by salt and nitrate trends.

Further discussion ensued on the difference between a "sensitive" designation that would allow more enforcement options as opposed to merely the aquifer being sensitive. The need for long-term monitoring data was pointed out to evaluate how water quality in the aquifer will respond to future growth and land use impacts as well as changes in management methods. We cannot rely on dilution of contaminants as a solution forever; there is a need to integrate a sewage management program and define what enhanced protection means.

Another source of contamination is shallow wells which have a chance of leaching into the aquifer and have lax compliance/enforcement of construction standards. Wells that are drilled 18 feet or deeper require a permit through the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

Tom Mullican reviewed the Idaho Ground Water Quality Rule and the basic standards for drinking water quality. A related recent policy for Degraded Ground Water Areas will prioritize areas that require clean up efforts. Priority 1 and 2 areas are considered significantly degraded and equate to or of MCL (Maximum Contaminant Level); larger contaminated areas alsoreceive higher priority. DEQ is strictly in an enforcement mode and tackles the worst areas (priority 1 and 2). A DEQ pilot project, a collaborative effort, is being conducted in Twin Falls. Collaborative efforts are proactive and the most preferable option. A "sensitive" designation also requires a collaborative effort among local jurisdictions and would allow maintenance or improvement of the current quality level.

Communities that recategorize their aquifer can write stricter rules than provided for in the Ground Water Quality Rule. The working group has looked at available water quality data in the lower Portneuf valley and recommends development of enhanced management practices to 1) handle sewage from future residential developments in the lower Portneuf valley with municipal sewage treatment systems; 2) handle urban stormwater runoff in a manner to minimize pollutant loading to ground water; and 3) improve effectiveness of existing hazardous materials storage and handling methods, including enforcement and tracking. Refinement and enforcement of existing regulations and practices may be an easier approach than recategorizing the aquifer.

All present agreed education is of the utmost importance. Educational tools either under development or being considered include a web site (already in process), segments on Channel 12, Mayor Call-In program and monthly newsletter, and various brochures. Scenarios could be set up to illustrate what will happen if we do not do something. The legislative appropriation will be used to forecast the expected socioeconomic impacts of Sensitive recategorization or a similar level of enhance aquifer protection, and compare costs and benefits of not implementing protection measures as opposed to preventative management strategies and regulations.

There is some opposition from builders regarding a potential moratorium on new wells. It is important to get input from this faction early. There may be a perception that pursuing "sensitive" designation is already decided on from the slant of the brochure. The working group will pursue a different tack to gain public support, namely focusing on evidence for water quality degradation and its relationship to population and development over time.

Kathy Morter offered to develop ideas and present these at the next meeting. In addition, Jim DiSanza volunteered assistance and advice on risk communication and stressed its importance in a public awareness campaign of this type.

A review of this week’s working group meetings will be the focus of a working group meeting to be arranged next week. The Ground Water Forum meets the first Wednesday of each month; the Ground Water Guardian committee meets the third Wednesday of each month.

The meeting adjourned at 11:30am.