Does Star Valley want to remain the sleepy, small town with ranch properties, limited commercial growth, aged septic systems, limited water sources and a single revenue source of photo enforcement tickets?
Or does it want to grow into a smaller version of Payson with a sanitary district, its own water supply infrastructure and a commercial district to sustain growth?
These are some of the questions Star Valley’s general plan committee and council face. Their decisions will forever change the town’s future.
In preparing their part of the general plan draft, the Water and Sewer Commission thinks Star Valley needs “safe and adequate water and adequate sewage treatments in order to ensure that the desired quality of life is not negatively impacted for the residents of Star Valley.”
The commission suggests in the general plan draft that the town can choose to do nothing about waste and deal with failing septic systems as they occur. However, this will ultimately lead to wells contaminated by leaking septic tanks and restricted growth of commercial businesses.
A wastewater treatment facility must be created to support high-density residential and commercial development. Without it, the town cannot support future growth.
A waste treatment facility should be built to allow for gravity flow, possibly between Lion Spring Draw and Cypress Hill on Houston Creek, the commission suggests.
Commission chair Vern Leis pointed out that they do not know where the plant should ultimately be located without a proper study.
Currently most of the town is on individual, aging septic systems.
The general plan draft states that septic systems work great in land with thick soils and deep groundwater supplies. However, in Star Valley with shallow soils and an abundance of granite, septic systems cannot protect groundwater quality.
Liquid from systems often passes though the granite and reaches wells.
“The liquid portion flowing out of the septic tank percolates into the ground and is of great concern,” the draft states. “This liquid retains a high oxygen demand that if left untreated and allowed to enter groundwater, can cause the groundwater to stink and foam.”
The town’s sewage system that services 82 homes in Pine Ridge and Houston Landing does not meet standards.
Most commercial businesses, especially larger ones, cannot function on a septic system.
To fix the sewage problem, the commission suggests the town could form a sanitary district and through bonds, build a collection system and treatment plant.
Alternatively, they could collaborate with the Northern Gila County Sanitary District, like Payson has, and annex portions of town to build a treatment plant. This would require residents to fork out funds to join the district and hook up to the sewage lines.
In terms of water, the commission acknowledges that the current water supply is adequate for the population and can sustain an additional 1,700 people through 2020.
Currently Star Valley residents and Payson use 222 acre-feet less the basin’s sustainable yield value.
However, without an additional water supply during drought years, the system would be strained.
“The lack of storage capacity in the bedrock aquifer, or other water storage facilities, heavily influences the number of people capable of being sustained in the Town of Star Valley during either a short-term or long-term drought.”
The town needs to acquire another water supply in the next 10 to 20 years if it hopes to grow beyond an additional 1,700 people.
The commission suggests that the town acquire Brooke Utilities or form a water improvement district to service the areas not served by Brooke.
Leis suggested at a July 9 meeting that the commission meet with Brooke Utilities’ president, Bob Hardcastle, to discuss future water requirements. The commission felt it was too early to meet with him.
Vice Chairman William Davis said he does not want to put Hardcastle in a position where he feels he has to defend himself.
At the conclusion of their meeting, most of the general plan assigned to the water and sewer commission was completed. It will now be presented to the general plan committee. When that committee approves the plan, it will be sent to council where the community will have time to add its input.