Environmental Bulletin

Teton Streams Bring Septic Conversation to the Surface

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Flat Creek flowing into the town of Jackson, WY with Grand Teton National Park in the background.

Jackson Hole and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are known for iconic landscapes, abundant wildlife, and a thriving tourism industry. The economy of the region relies heavily on its natural resources and the recreation opportunities they provide to fund the rapid growth and development of surrounding communities. People from all over the world are drawn to the Jackson Hole, Wyoming, region because it is pure and seemingly untouched. But, as more people answer to the call of the mountains and draw of pristine rivers, the human pressure on these valuable resources increases.

The Tetons are known for sweeping vistas and pristine waterways. Getty Images

Since wide-open spaces are main draw to this mountain region, only 2% of the land in Teton County, Wyoming is zoned for residential or commercial development. This limited acreage is scattered in pockets around the county, resulting in small but concentrated groups of homes and businesses. While a municipal wastewater treatment system services the main town of Jackson, and smaller centralized systems support Teton Village and the Aspens community, onsite septic systems remain the only feasible solution for most of the county.

More people moving to the region means more wastewater being produced, more nutrient pollution entering local ground and surface water, and more pronounced impacts on the resources that support both the local ecosystem and the local economy. Hundreds of properties that abut streams rely on septic systems. Locals have been increasingly concerned about the “nuisance aquatic growths” in their rivers, which impair the natural stream ecology and trout populations, and scientific evidence recently validated their anecdotal claims.

In January 2020, the EPA announced that Fish Creek and Flat Creek, which run through Wilson and Jackson respectively, are severely impaired with fecal bacteria. The streams, which were once pristine waters prized for their clarity and healthy populations of native trout, have been classified as impaired due to the presence of E. coli. The designation as category 5, the lowest EPA classification, means that all of Fish Creek and the lower segment of Flat creek are no longer considered safe for recreation. While this designation is all too common in more populous states, only 6% of studied stream miles in Wyoming have been classified as impaired. The inclusion of two streams in that small, polluted percentage is a surprising statistic for the most ecologically and economically wealthy county in the state.

The list of sources contributing to the streams degradation includes agriculture and livestock, fertilizers, septic systems and wastewater plants. Dan Leemon, the director of Protect Our Water Jackson Hole, suggest that past research “may have missed the mark by ranking septic systems low on the list of contributors.” Septic systems contribute large quantities of nitrogen and fecal bacteria to the water table, and with the regions thin, rocky soils and shallow bedrock, the majority of these harmful pollutants end up in the streams. The constantly increasing demand for housing in Teton County and the isolated grouping of communities mean that any viable solution to stream pollution must include improvement of septic system performance. It is time to take action to protect these critical resources, and that starts in your backyard.

LooLoop® is the ideal solution to mitigate the threat to the prized resources of the Tetons. SOSystems designed their advanced onsite wastewater treatment system to be installed seamlessly into an existing septic system, or to be incorporated into plans for new development. Without using delicate membranes and complex components, LooLoop® achieves industry-leading effluent quality and reliability.  LooLoop® looks good wherever you place it on your property, so your view will be as pristine as your local water systems. The more our communities work together, the more impactful our actions can be. A LooLoop® in every back yard will help effectively eliminate a major source of pollution and restore the streams their former immaculate condition. Contact us to start protecting your precious mountain streams today!

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