THE BUZZ 3: Algae Bloom Blues

By on October 11, 2016

Candidate forum tonight asks tough questions on managing the valley’s most precious resource.

(Photo: Teton Conservation District)

(Photo: Teton Conservation District)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – A forum on water resources tonight will put town and county candidates in the hot seat on pressing environmental issues. Co-hosted by several water organizations and agencies, the forum asks candidates to weigh in on how they will protect and restore Jackson’s pristine water resources.

Friends of Fish Creek and the Teton Conservation District are spearheading the forum they hope will educate voters and candidates alike.

“We want to get candidates up to speed,” said Dan Leemon, executive director of Friends of Fish Creek.

Recent area water issues such as toxic algae blooms, fish kills, and fishing guides getting foot rot are all warning signs local officials should heed, Leemon explained. “We feel like we are getting out ahead of the issue,” he said. “Most communities don’t react until it’s too late. We want to reduce human impact now.”

According to the white paper (or informational pamphlet) provided by Teton Conservation District, wastewater, or sewage, is one of the largest sources of water pollution in Teton County; and it’s growing as tourist and residential populations swell. “Wastewater is going to be a big political issue,” Leemon warned.

The Town of Jackson owns and operates the largest municipal wastewater treatment plant in Teton County. The plant services numerous ‘at-large’ areas outside of the town’s municipal boundary, and it receives all the highly concentrated sewage pumped from domestic septic tanks in the valley.

According to Leemon, new EPA rules regarding wastewater are coming down the pike. “Local government needs to partner with water resource nonprofits because when these rules come down from the federal or state level, it’s at the local level that they have to be implemented,” he explained.

In addition to wastewater policies, the white paper stresses the need for local leadership to partner with regional and national governing bodies. This will ensure Bridger Teton National Forest recreation areas receive their fair share of funding.

In the past, this advocacy role has fallen through the cracks, water organization officials say. Snake River Fund executive director Len Carlman said there is a standard formula used to allocate recreation dollars to national forests, and Bridger-Teton is not getting what it should. “When we ran the numbers using the standard distribution formula for the 12 regional forests, Bridger-Teton is coming up about $865,000 short,” he said.

But local electeds, Carlman says, haven’t been aware of this huge shortfall. “We are not as sophisticated as we need to be in being partners with the Forest Service and in securing their budget. Electeds need to understand how the money is supposed to flow, and then go and ask that the standard formula be respected.”

Amy Verbeten, executive director of Friends of the Teton River, said that water resource management is one of those things that municipalities tend to think somebody else is taking care of. “There is a gap in governance around water issues,” she said. “We want to close that gap.”

In addition to fisheries, 940 acres of riparian habitat between Moose and the South Park Landing are under consideration for transfer from federal to county ownership and management. County commissioners need to be ready to steward this land and water, Carlman said.

“Our county commissioners have said they would like Teton County to own these tracts of land, and Senator Barrasso’s office is poised to move that forward,” he said. “But if the next round of county commissioners was hostile to the idea of taking over ownership of the parcels, it would set us back to square one.”

Candidates will also likely be asked about native cutthroat trout, a bellwether of healthy local waterways, and water-conscious land use planning. Terms like “nutrient pollution” will be bandied about. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nutrient pollution is one of America’s most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems, and is caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the air and water. That pollution is what causes toxic algae and other problems that kill fish and give fishing guides foot rot.

A coalition of organizations collaborated to plan the forum. Friends of Fish Creek, Teton Conservation District, Flat Creek Watershed Improvement District, Friends of the Teton River, Trout Unlimited, and the Snake River Fund prepared a white paper as well as 10 sample questions for the candidates. Candidates will be asked five of these questions tonight.

The Candidate Forum on Water Resources, moderated by Dr. Jessica Western from the Ruckelshaus Institute School of Natural Resources at University of Wyoming, is 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, October 12 in the Grand Teton Room at Snow King Resort.

For more info, fishcreekfriends.org. PJH

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About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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