DRIGGS Idaho. — The City of Driggs has been sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for their Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) being out of compliance with its National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPEDS) permit.

Driggs was not alone in the state of Idaho in regards to water pollution, as the Idaho Conservation League’s (ICL) fifth annual Wastewater Treatment Plant Report found that 75% of all sewage facilities in Idaho failed to comply with U.S. Clean Water Act standards for harmful bacteria, chemicals, toxic metals and other substances. 

Municipal wastewater treatment plant violations report shows that Driggs topped the list with 141 violations from 2019-2021.  Source: Idaho Conservation League Wastewater Report.

In Driggs, wasterwater is released into Woods Creek, which flows into the Teton River. Since treatment plants discharge directly into waterbodies, facilities are required to ensure the treated discharge meets all water quality standards set forth in the Clean Water Act.

Wastewater treatment plants must receive permits prior to discharging wastewater. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) track compliance to ensure that facilities are meeting the pollution limits. If a community’s wastewater treatment plant fails to comply with pollutant limits in its permit, that facility can endanger human health and harm water quality. Failure to operate a wastewater treatment plant properly is not only harmful for people who rely on a waterbody for drinking water, irrigation, recreation, and fisheries, but it is also against the law.

According to the report, Driggs has consistently struggled to meet its permit requirements for ammonia. Over the last three  years, it has been discharging ammonia at levels ~25 times higher on average than what its permit requires. 

“Unfortunately, the treatment facility cannot remove enough ammonia to meet our stringent discharge requirements, said City Engineer Jay Mazalewsk. “I have spent the last five years working with engineers, manufacturers, regulatory agencies, and laboratories, trying to solve the ammonia issue. Working with the EPA is the next step in the process of coming up with a long-term solution,” he remarks.

According to the City of Driggs, the EPA is currently reviewing the WWTP Draft Facility Plan to consider the best possible solutions, and City officials and Staff will meet with the EPA to discuss in-depth technical issues later this month. After the EPA’s review, a new WWTP Facility Plan will be presented to City Council and sent to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality for review. Once a new facility plan is adopted, steps will be taken to resolve the problem within a set timeline. 

“Yes, a lawsuit has been filed. We’ve known this is coming,” said City of Driggs attorney Sam Angell. “This is a procedural step in the process of getting to a consent decree which is a settlement agreement between the EPA and the City of Driggs to solve the problem. This is part of months of work with the EPA to find solutions.”  

The City of Driggs will be updating their website as more information on the matter becomes available.

Toby Koekkoek is a Community News Reporter, and a recent resident of Teton Valley. He enjoys writing about our region's community events and the movers and shakers that make up the culture of this unique mountain town. He enjoys deep powder, and deep thoughts, skateboarding, playing racquet sports, riding his bike, and nerding out on music. Toby also coaches freeride skiing for the Jackson Hole Ski Club and runs skateboard camps in the summer.