JACKSON, Wyo. — On Wednesday, Nov. 15 at Teton County Library, residents had the opportunity to ask questions and share concerns during the presentation of Teton County’s first-ever comprehensive water plan.

Teton County, Protect Our Water Jackson Hole (POWJH), Teton Conservation District, Flitner Strategies and The Town of Jackson collaborated over a span of two years, to devise the Teton County Water Quality Master Plan (WQMP) draft.

“The WQMP project is a comprehensive scientific analysis and implementation plan that will identify known and possible threats to our groundwater and surface waters,” Pow JH, a driving force behind the effort, wrote on their website. “It will outline detailed mitigation strategies that provide a clear set of roles and responsibilities for the various local entities that oversee water resources management.”

According to Teton County, WQMP is a 20-year vision to protect surface water and groundwater resources from future degradation and improve water quality where known degradation is occurring. The plan addresses management of wastewater, stormwater, non-point source pollution, water resources for wildlife and recreation and drinking water.

“The draft took almost two years and this past year we analyzed all available data on ground and surface water in the region, and that’s how you get a good product,” Teton County Public Works Project Manager Chris Colligan said. “Our assemblage of partners really hit the ground running with recommended immediate actions to protect Teton County’s water.”

Colligan said that the impaired streams on Flat Creek and Fish Creek, as well as known drinking water issues in the Hoback areas, have increased community attention and the need for water quality mitigation. He explained that the WQMP draft was able to come together at this time due to approval by the County Commissioners for county-wide water quality planning in Dec. 2021 and the acquisition of crucial funding from project partners.

The team of partners selected expert specialists from private and public sectors, including Trihydro Corporation, the lead technical consultant to the project. Travis Evans, Industrial Facilities Team Leader at Trihydro, presented an overview of the plan during the public meeting. 

Evans said the planning process consisted of collecting data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), conducting a vulnerability analysis of ground and surface water in Teton County and assessing waste water facilities, urbanization impacts and slope stability. He said that the detailed water resource assessment recommends strategies to mitigate threats to drinking water and takes into account future considerations such as drought and climate change.

Trihydro Corporation’s surface water vulnerability rating of aquifers in Teton County. Photo: Trihydro Corporation

According to Evans, the WQMP identifies immediate and future water quality actions needed to be taken in order to ensure long-term aquifer protection, such as additional studies, land development regulations, a surface and ground water monitoring network, wastewater facility regulations and mitigation measures. An essential action moving forward will be the hiring of new water resource managers and additional staff for the Town and County in the upcoming months. A five year update is also designed into the plan to allow for adaptability as local conditions change.

After the end of the comment period, Trihydro will incorporate public feedback and present the final plan to the Teton County Board of County Commissioners in January 2024. A water quality advisory committee will then be formed and approved by the Teton County Commissioners.

“We take public comments very seriously and will incorporate them into the final plan,” Director of Public Works Heather Overholser said. “This is the first step in a collaborative and adaptive approach in the protection of our water for generations.”

Public comment opened on Wednesday, Nov. 15 and closes on Wednesday, Dec. 31 at 5 p.m.

To read the draft and provide public comment, visit the Teton County WQMP public engagement website: https://publicinput.com/tetonwaterqualityplan OR send an email to tetonwaterqualityplan@publicinput.com.

A second public event will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 13, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Teton County Library Auditorium.

Leigh Reagan Smith is a wildlife and community news reporter. Originally a documentary filmmaker, she has lived in the valley since 1997. Leigh enjoys skiing, horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking and interviewing interesting people for her podcast, SoulRise.