Sewer, Not Water, Is Star Valley’S Biggest Problem


After years of debating and study of whether Payson’s wells would suck Star Valley’s aquifers dry, some say Star Valley may have been ignoring its biggest problem all along — sewer.

“Folks, our 1,000-pound gorilla out there is sewer, not water,” Vern Leis, town councilor and chairman of the water and sewer commission, told the Star Valley council last week during a work-study session. The work-study also included updates from the streets and road commission and floodwater task force.

Leis pointed out that most of the town, around 700 households, are on septic systems. If those failed, which most of them could do within a few years according one study, the town water supply would be in trouble. To make matters worse, the only treatment facility in town, which services 84 homes, is not in compliance and has not been for some time.

Star Valley needs to make creating its own sewer system its No. 1 priority, Leis said. He pointed out this opinion was shared by the water and sewer commission.

For the past several months, the commission has toured treatment facilities in the area, looking for viable ideas. Leis said the commission hopes to have ideas in place for the general plan, which the town has been working to complete for nearly a year.

The plan was held up after a snag in the water section. In July of 2008, town members voted to halt general plan discussions in hopes the water study could determine how big the town could grow, given the amount of water available.

Leis touched on that water study and said it has just been completed after six revisions. The new water study describes the town’s water condition in layman’s terms so everyone can understand it, he said. Now that the water study is complete, the commission is working to finish the water plan for the general plan.

Highlights from the study include the observation that the town is currently pumping out 15 percent less water than rainfall puts in. However, if a drought occurred, the town could quickly find that demand would exceed natural recharge.

During a severe drought, Payson’s Tower Well running at full capacity could potentially suck the aquifer dry, the study says.

Leis said that the Tower Well is currently pumping out on average, 88 acre-feet annually, a small amount compared to what it could pump out.

“If the Tower Well was removed, we could have an additional 668 to our population,” Leis said. The U.S. Census determined in 2000 that the population was 1,536.

Councilor Gary Coon said Star Valley has to assume that the Tower Well is currently running on idle and could eventually pump 800 acre-feet annually. Leis said the well has never pumped higher than 150 acre-feet, so the commission cannot include that assumption in the plan because it has not happened.

“We have to use the numbers we have,” Leis said. “Right now our wells are pretty stable.”

In addition, Star Valley cannot support large businesses with its current fire protection and systems. The town can’t support large businesses because it has no commercial hydrants and no sewage treatment plant.

Most businesses, including restaurants, cannot function on a septic system and almost all require certain fire protection, such as hydrants and sprinklers.

“Fire is prominent to our growth. If you want commercial business here, then you need more than zero hydrants on the street,” Leis said.

Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch said the town currently has 40 residential hydrants, which put out around 1,000 gallons of water a minute. For commercial, the flow needs to be around 3,500 gallon per minute.

“These systems are not designed for that (commercial properties),” Hatch said.

Even if the town wanted to install larger hydrants, it could not, because the entire town is on 6- to 8-inch water lines that cannot carry a large flow of water. The town would need to install 12-inch pipes for larger hydrants, Hatch said.

“We have been pushing to get hydrants in and any new development is required to put them in, such as Star Vale and Lamplighter,” Hatch said.

To illustrate the cost of meeting modern fire codes, Leis said the town could buy a 500-gallon water tank at a cost of $480,000, pay $100,000 for the ground to put it on and they would still have no way of getting the water from the tank to the businesses for sprinklers.

Councilor George Binney said he objected to the idea of buying the fire department a water tank, since 30 percent of his taxes already go to the fire department, which he says squanders the money by buying new trucks every two years.

Leis said he was not suggesting the town buy a water tank, but was only using it as a cost example to illustrate that the town cannot support a big box retailer.

Streets and Roads

Regarding the town’s streets and roads, Chairperson Richard Pinkerton said they are working to install more crossings at creeks that typically flood. They are also working to get more streets chip sealed for dust control.

“We need to move forward with an aggressive plan to keep up with our streets and roads,” Pinkerton said.


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