Teton County is home to the headwaters of the Snake River, which is designated a Wild and Scenic River, and is the foundation to an extraordinary biodiversity of wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. These headwaters also supply our only source of drinking water. Below the surface and out of sight, the groundwater in the Snake River Alluvial Aquifer has been federally designated as a Sole Source Aquifer for drinking water for all of Teton County – and it is being impacted by nutrient pollution.
Nutrient pollution is quickly becoming Teton County, Wyoming’s most widespread, costly, and challenging environmental problem. In 1991, the Snake River Aquifer, the source of our drinking water, was designated as a Sole Source Aquifer by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The designation was designed to protect our drinking water from contamination. Unfortunately, we have built a substantial body of evidence that the aquifer is being contaminated and that poor wastewater management in Teton County is playing a significant role in contaminating our only source of drinking water.
The effects of sustained growth and increased tourism in Teton County have had a profound impact on our regional wastewater infrastructure. The lack of strong regional coordination for wastewater management has put our community’s health, environment, and our economy at risk and left our drinking water supply vulnerable to contamination. The fact is, this lack of coordination has left no one protecting our water.
Elevated concentrations of nitrates in our drinking water, documented in several locations across Teton County, are the strongest indicator of human contamination. The drinking water in the Hoback Junction area has reached the point where it is unfit for human consumption. Elevated nutrient concentrations in our groundwater are also producing harmful algae blooms that smother aquatic habitats and negatively impact our prized native fisheries. The continued lack of oversight will only lead to increased drinking water treatment costs, tourism losses, and declining real estate values.
It has been shown that improving wastewater treatment is the key to significantly reducing nutrient pollution and can dramatically return bodies of water to health. POWJH is focused on several goals to achieve water quality protection including the development of a comprehensive county-wide water quality management plan, updating Teton County’s septic system regulations, and restoring water quality protections that were removed from the community’s comprehensive plan during the 1990s. Over the last year, POWJH’s primary focus has been to fundamentally change the way that Teton County manages wastewater in the sensitive watersheds of Jackson Hole.
The time is now to Protect our Water! Now, more than ever, we need your help to continue our progress toward improving our water quality.