Article courtesy of Idaho State Journal | August 9, 2015 | Idaho State Journal | Shared as educational material
Clean drinking water is the most important commodity in the world next to oxygenated air. Therefore, drinking water protection is getting crucial these days.
As humans, our bodies are about 60 percent water. And experts say we need to consume about half a gallon of water each day — in one form or another — to maintain peak health. Without water intake, a person would die in about a week to 10 days, depending on their exposure to heat and physical activity.
So you’d think we’d place an extremely high priority on making sure our water supplies are ample and protected. Without it, we’re dead in less than two weeks.
This concern about fresh water supplies should be amplified by the fact that although 70 percent of the planet is covered by water, only 2.5 percent is fresh water.
Fresh water lakes, rivers and streams and storage reservoirs are only the fresh water we can see. About 30 percent of our fresh water is below ground, stored in aquifers or pockets in the Earth’s crust.
Idaho is blessed when it comes to fresh water. The Snake River Aquifer is a vast underground storage system of basalt formations that stretches 400 miles from eastern Idaho to the west. Most of the water recharging the aquifer comes from rain and melting snow that flows onto the plain from the mountains to the east and north.
Pocatello and Chubbuck are similarly gifted by a much smaller aquifer, the Portneuf system. It is fed primarily by snowmelt from the drainages of Gibson Jack and Mink creeks in the mountains to the west and south of Pocatello city limits. Experts say historically about 7 million gallons of water recharge the system annually. However, the cities are pumping about 7.8 million gallons each year.
In other words, we’re deficit spending on our main water resource.
This drawdown has been complicated by another issue — nitrates that filter into the aquifer from hundreds of individual septic systems perched on the benches to the west and east of Pocatello.
Pocatello has been forced to shut down several of the 17 wells providing water to the city because of contamination from nitrates, and solvents likely dumped decades ago at the Bannock County Landfill — also located upstream on the Portneuf Aquifer.
But it is the ongoing issue of increased nitrates from rural sewage treatment systems that became the focus of concern during a Bannock County Planning and Development Board hearing last week. A group calling itself the Portneuf Resource Council has been waging a war to “put water first” in all future development in the Portneuf Valley, and it is opposed to a new subdivision in the Mink Creek area that would add 13 more homes and sewage systems.
Thirteen more septic tanks and leach fields may not sound like much for an area heavily populated with rural homes where people were allowed to build on lots as small as one acre in the past.
But the Portneuf Resource Council is pushing to draw the line somewhere.
During last week’s hearing, one of the landowners seeking to develop the new subdivision, Emma Gebo of Pocatello, exposed what she called an “elephant in the room.”