US Justice Department sues Idaho city over water pollution

Posted at 3:03 PM, Nov 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-02 17:07:44-04

DRIGGS, Idaho — The federal government is suing a small Idaho town near Grand Teton National Park for dumping toxic waste from its sewage treatment plant into a stream that feeds several scenic rivers in the region.

The lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice was filed in Idaho's U.S. District Court on Monday. The federal government contends the city of Driggs violated the Clean Water Act by dumping effluent with too much e. coli and ammonia or otherwise violated wastewater permit rules more than 2,600 times over the last seven years.

The effluent was released into Woods Creek, which flows into the Teton River, Henry's Fork, the Snake and Columbia Rivers on its way to the Pacific Ocean. The Teton River and Henry's Fork are renown fly fishing locations, drawing anglers from around the world. The violations, if proven, could put the city of about 2,100 people on the hook for more than $160 million in fines.

In written statement, the city of Driggs said the lawsuit was a positive development because it will allow the EPA and city officials to work together to come up with solutions.

“Although it seems scary to be sued by the Department of Justice, it's actually an opportunity to receive support and resources,” from the federal government, Driggs Mayor August Christensen wrote in the statement.

The city's attorney, Sam Angell, said the lawsuit is a “procedural step” in the process of reaching a settlement agreement with the federal agency.

Driggs' wastewater treatment facility treats sanitary waste and sewage from several small communities in the region. The facility has failed to meet federal standards for years, and in 2018 the city and the Environmental Protection Agency reached a legal agreement that Driggs would upgrade the plant to come into compliance with wastewater rules within two years.

That did not happen, however, triggering the federal lawsuit. The Department of Justice is asking a judge to fine the city, order it to comply with the Clean Water Act and other federal pollution rules.