IN SOUTHERN IDAHO, WATER IS LIFE – FOR RESIDENTS, FOR FARMERS, FOR THE WORLD AROUND US
Aside from the threat of oil & gas drilling toward our water resources, we are also facing the prospect of degradation of other critical local water resources. Two such situations have engaged CAIA’s attention in recent years…
Suez Water takeover of Eagle Water Company
While multinational corporation Suez Water, which currently supplies water to thousands of Treasure Valley residents, attempted to take over a major Eagle municipal water system, CAIA was there. The Eagle Water Company asked the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to allow Suez to buy this system (even though the City of Eagle had a longstanding agreement with Eagle Water Co. to have the first right of purchase if sold).
CAIA is one of several intervenors in that PUC case. The City of Eagle at first intended to purchase the water company and run it as not-for-profit, without undue stress on chemical treatment. We were especially concerned about loss of local control over the resource; but there are quite a few other reasons for citizens to be concerned about a sellout to Suez, including rising fees all over the Treasure Valley and water quality and service issues, which many current Suez customers have complained about for a long time.
Suez’s stated goal was to raise monthly rates in Eagle by 200-300% to pay for infrastructure to pipe much of this water up to the arid northwest Ada County foothills for future development (making development at the water’s source that much more expensive). They also admitted this will require rate increases for all existing Suez customers across the Boise Valley, impacting potentially hundreds of thousands of citizens out of their ~94,000 Treasure Valley customer base.
Suez Water is known for mixing groundwater and surface water in the Treasure Valley, requiring additional chemical treatments which affect both taste and health. Many residential customers routinely use water filters because their house water tastes bad.
(You may read public comments by current and former Idaho Suez Water customers on the IPUC website: http://www.puc.idaho.gov/fileroom/cases/summary/SUZW1802.html – experiences reportedly shared by many Suez customers elsewhere.)
Unfortunately, coincident with a change in Eagle City Council membership, the City shifted its stance, and the Idaho PUC in the end allowed Suez to buy the water company in 2021.
Boise City’s proposed use of Farmers Union Canal for wastewater
The City of Boise planned to discharge treated municipal effluent into the Farmers Union Canal that serves NW Boise and much of the northern Eagle and Star communities. Many shareholders of Boise Valley Irrigation Company – encompassing many farmers, including several organic farmers – have their water delivered by the Farmers Union Canal and would also be impacted if this plan had moved forward.
Boise sought to inexpensively comply with stricter water quality standards for the Boise River, and disposing of the effluent into the canal system rather than the Boise River would have avoided these standards. Many residents along the canal system were alarmed, as treated municipal wastewater still contains a class of chemicals known collectively as Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs), which are not monitored or regulated by state or federal agencies.
CECs found remaining in treated sewage wastewater typically include pharmaceuticals such as birth control pills, Prozac, antibiotics, and steroids, chemical components of personal care products, surfactants, flame retardants, disinfectants, plasticizers, insect repellents, and pesticides. The harm from many of these contaminants is due to their ability to disrupt the endocrine system at extremely low levels. These substances may also have the ability to impact aquatic life at very low levels.
While the effect on humans is less known, residents feared that discharge into the Farmers Union Canal would concentrate the potential harm on valley residents who interact with the water on a daily basis, either through sprinkler systems (lawns and sports fields), gardening, pets, fishing ponds, flood irrigation, or aquifer recharge. While local officials emphasized that the water would be heavily treated to Class A standards, the State of Idaho requires such water to be signed as “not safe for drinking or human contact.”
CAIA worked diligently with concerned citizens to assess and counter this far-reaching threat – and in the end, the city pulled back from their plan.
(For more information on the risks of contamination in wastewater, and on the city of Boise’s decisionmaking about this canal, see the Facebook page Farmers Union Canal Stakeholders kept by a Boise citizen who researches these topics thoroughly.)