Star Valley needs a new commission to work on issues related to water supply and sewage treatment, the town council decided on Tuesday.
The council voted unanimously to seek applicants for the new seven-member commission, but to hold off formally disbanding the existing committee that has been wading through water issues for two years. Shrunk now to two members, the committee has stalled in its efforts to address a list of key questions.
Mayor Chuck Heron said the new commission will be “more formal — which will give them more standing than the (present) committee.”
The move comes as the town awaits the results of the latest study of its water needs. A consultant is expected to provide updated estimates in December or January as to how much water the town can pump out of the ground without draining the water table.
The town has postponed completion of its general plan, in hopes the latest study will settle long-standing disputes about whether the town has enough water.
Presumably, the newly established commission will build on that study to consider a water use ordinance and long-debated, but currently stalled, plans for the town to go into the water delivery business — and maybe the sewage treatment business as well.
Star Valley recently put on hold its bid to buy a local water supply system operated by Brooke Utilities. The town backed away from that bid when a consulting attorney suggested the price for the company’s facilities might go well over $500,000. Previously, the council also briefly considered, then dropped the idea of buying a small, private waste treatment system.
Currently, most residents get their water from wells and rely on backyard septic tanks. The lack of a sewage treatment plant sharply limits businesses that can locate along the highway.
The council on Tuesday also debated whether to disband the existing water committee immediately or to wait until the proposed new commission is up and running.
“I don’t know that I would like to see (the committee) rescinded until we have the commission put together,” said councilor Nathalie Stroupe.
“We don’t have to rescind it,” said Heron, “but there are only two members…”
“I still think we should hold off,” said Stroupe.
The committee has spent nearly two years grappling with complex questions concerning water supply and its impact on future growth. Council members have said the committee didn’t settle any of the key questions, but defenders of the committee said its members were often excluded from the key discussions.
Concerns about water shortages actually spurred Star Valley’s incorporation after neighboring Payson required any new developments to find new water sources. As a result, a Payson developer drilled the Tower Well in Star Valley and turned it over to Payson in return for rights to develop.
Payson paid for a study that compared the amount of water used by Star Valley to the amount of water that soaked into the water table in an average year. The Payson-funded study concluded that Star Valley’s substantial water table holds more water than it needs and therefore the Tower Well wouldn’t harm Star Valley water users. Star Valley advocates disagreed with that study, arguing that it overestimated the amount of water reaching the water table and underestimated the withdrawals.
The current consultant’s study will re-examine those estimates, add in more recent figures and estimate how much water Star Valley will need when it reaches build out decades from now, given the proposed general plan vision of a mostly low-density residential community with lots of big lots, forested spaces and little industry with commercial development limited largely to a strip along the highway.
Mayor Heron said the town will now try to recruit people interested in serving on the proposed water and sanitation commission, which will hold meetings and hearings and review plans and studies and then make recommendations to the town council.