Wyoming is home to clean, cold rivers and streams that support world class native trout fisheries.
These waters provide agricultural irrigation, wildlife habitat, support for guiding and outfitting industries, and ensure that residents have safe drinking water and access to year round recreation. That’s why we advocate for Wyoming’s water quality.
TETON COUNTY WASTEWATER
Teton County boasts some of Wyoming’s most iconic views as well as its most coveted real estate. Nestled in an idyllic valley and surrounded by mountain peaks, national forest, wilderness areas, and Grand Teton National Park, it’s no surprise that millions of people visit the area each year and Jackson’s year-round and seasonal population continues to grow.
Below the surface of this awe-inspiring landscape is the Snake River Aquifer — the county’s sole source of drinking water, which is under threat from rising levels of nitrates. These pollutants can lead to dangerous algae blooms and also pose health hazards to babies and pregnant women. Nitrates can enter the water supply from agricultural runoff, but in Teton County, the primary source appears to be a high density of septic systems that cannot function effectively due to poor soils and a shallow water table.
Unlike many other resort communities, Teton County does not have a regional wastewater management plan, sufficient wastewater infrastructure, or up-to-date regulations for septic systems. The Wyoming Outdoor Council is working to remedy these issues to address the current levels of nitrates, which will only increase further if inadequate septic systems continue to be installed in vulnerable and environmentally-sensitive areas.
Hoback area residents have already been advised to begin testing their drinking water, and many have taken steps to treat water that exceeds the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum allowable nitrate concentration. Residents are exploring options to bring clean drinking water into the community, all of which involve millions of dollars and years of study. Two streams in developed areas of Jackson Hole were also listed as “impaired” due to levels of E. coli — a bacterial pollutant that comes from human waste — by the Department of Environmental Quality’s in early 2020. These streams are no longer safe to swim in.
Residents of Teton County, and the visitors that provide the backbone of the local economy, all deserve clean drinking water and pristine streams that are free from harmful pollutants. Together with local partners, the Outdoor Council has been working to raise awareness of these issues and encouraging local agencies to take action. We will continue to work toward modernized wastewater regulations, including engaging on revisions to Teton County’s small wastewater facility regulations and advocating for a comprehensive wastewater management plan.
“With Jackson Hole’s sewage, a treatment tradeoff,” Jackson Hole News & Guide, Feb. 5, 2020
“Two prized Jackson Hole streams polluted by E. coli,” Jackson Hole News & Guide, Jan. 15, 2020
“Nitrates rising: A concerning groundwater pollutant climbs in some JH reaches,” Jackson Hole News & Guide, Jan. 8, 2020
MONETA DIVIDE AND BOYSEN RESERVOIR
In 2019, we spoke out against the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s proposal to allow Aethon Energy to discharge more than 8 million gallons per day of contaminated oil and gas wastewater into creeks which flow into Boysen Reservoir and the Wind and Bighorn rivers. In response to hundreds of citizens who submitted comments and spoke out at public meetings, and concerns from the EPA, the DEQ reversed its position. A revised draft permit released in January would allow Aethon to maintain its current volume of wastewater discharge: about 2 million gallons per day.
The company’s existing permit allows 908 tons per month of salts and other pollutants to enter Boysen and its tributaries, and contains no limits for benzene and other harmful chemicals. The operation has exceeded legal limits for pH, oil and grease, and chlorides. The DEQ made the right decision to cap wastewater discharge at current levels — now, it’s time to address the contamination that’s already taking place.
We’re asking that the DEQ work with Aethon to clean up the damage caused by decades of oil field pollution in these streams and reduce the amount of salts authorized under both the existing and proposed discharge permits. The agency should also implement a one or two-year plan to reduce the concentration of chloride allowed in Badwater Creek. We will continue to analyze the many water quality impacts of this project as the DEQ weighs public input on the revised draft permit.
“DEQ says Aethon violated pollution limits at Moneta Divide,” WyoFile, Feb. 18, 2020
“After public outcry, state regulators revise permit for Moneta Divide oil project,” Casper Star-Tribune, Jan. 17, 2020
STANDING UP FOR CITIZEN SCIENCE IN WYOMING
The Outdoor Council recognizes how important, and sometimes fundamental, the data collected by citizens, academic research institutions, and other non-governmental groups can be in making regulatory decisions that protect our health and environmental quality — especially in a time of contracting budgets and limited agency resources.
For this reason in March 2020, WOC along with the US EPA protested the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s proposed changes to impose strict requirements on who can collect water quality data used to support regulatory decisions. You can find our comments below.
The department’s new rules would hamstring the potential benefits of citizen science by requiring that regulatory determinations about water quality standards be made only by data collected by government entities or contractors. The new changes also limit data collection by including highly restrictive educational and training requirements.
We asked that the DEQ remove these arbitrary barriers to citizen science and instead focus on developing and communicating a clear process that maintains the ability of trained citizens to play a meaningful role in shaping water quality decisions in the state.
LATEST BLOGS, NEWS, & ACTIONS
In late December, Gov. Mark Gordon released a draft executive order that would dictate how Wyoming designates and manages big game migration corridors.
Upstream in the watershed is the Moneta Divide oil and gas field, where Texas-based Aethon Energy proposes to drill 4,100 new wells over the next 15 years — an economic boost for many communities in a part of the state that desperately needs jobs and revenue. But the company’s plan includes dumping up to 8.27 million gallons per day of “produced” oilfield wastewater — groundwater mixed in the oil- and gas-bearing formations — into tributaries of Boysen Reservoir.
Jacob, 24, is working as an intern at the Wyoming Outdoor Council this summer, digging deep into National Environmental Policy Act matters related to water quality issues in Wyoming, among other things.
Comments, letters, and other documents
Comments on Draft EIS for the Lost Creek Uranium Mine Modification-Expansion (Oct. 15, 2018)
Letter re: Triennial Review of Water Quality Standards (Oct. 12, 2018)
Letter re: Response to Townsend Creek Petition (July 18, 2018)
Letter re: Error in DEQ Categorical Use Attainability Analysis for Recreation—Townsend Creek, Lander, Wyoming (June 12, 2018)
Letter re: True Oil, LLC – Lander Peak Area Exploratory Proposal – BLM Must Address Potential Downhole Impacts to Usable Water in Compliance with Onshore Order No. 2 (March 15, 2018)
Letter to EQC on Water Quality Variances (Feb. 20, 2018)
Letter to DEQ/WQD regarding granting of variances under the Clean Water Act (March 27, 2017)
Comments on DEQ/WQD’s Categorical Use Attainability Analysis for Recreation and Final Determination Regarding the Categorical Redesignation of Streams in the State from Primary Contact to Secondary Contact Recreation (Sept. 16, 2015)
Moneta Divide Gas Field Discharge Permit Comments and Memorandums —
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s response to “Complaint and Request for Investigation” (Aug. 28, 2019)
Complaint and Request for Investigation of the Moneta Divide Oil and Natural Gas Field (Aug. 15, 2019)
Comments on Moneta Divide Gas Field Discharge Permit (July 3, 2019)
Review of ERM Water-Quality Modeling Study of Boysen Reservoir (July 1, 2019)
Analysis of, and comments on, proposed WDEQ Wastewater Discharge Permit for Aethon Energy Operating, LLC (June 27, 2019)