Boise’s Public Works Department terminated a years-old contract with a canal company it once proposed to collaborate with on a water recycling project.
In August, the City of Boise sent a letter to the Farmer’s Union Ditch Company canceling its 2014 contract with the company to discharge highly treated wastewater from the Lander Street facility into the irrigation canal to water crops. This project was explored as a possibility during former Mayor Dave Bieter’s administration and never came to fruition.
The project infuriated some residents in Northwest Boise when they discovered that the city signed the contract with the canal company without informing the public or gathering any input. They raised concerns that currently unregulated chemicals in the wastewater, called “emerging constituents” and ‘forever chemicals’ like PFAS, could harm them when they use the canal water to flood irrigate their yards, water their gardens or if it entered wells used for drinking water.
Activists cheer cancelation
All work on the project was paused after the neighborhood objected and the city promised to have city council members approve any recycled water project individually in public meetings. The city also agreed to a series of tests to see what the levels of emerging constituents in the water supply are before starting any more recycled water projects.
“In developing our Recycled Water Program, the city determined that the Farmer’s Union contract did not align with the current overall direction for recycled water, its value, and our community’s expectations of involvement and transparency,” city spokesman Natalie Monro said. “Additionally, the contract provided no assurance for the delivery of a product. It was no longer in the best interest of the city and a notice a to terminate the contract was appropriate.”
Former Democratic candidate for the Idaho Legislature Shelley Brock and Northwest Neighborhood Association President Richard Llewellyn have been highly active in organizing residents along the canal against the project since it went public in 2019. Brock cheered the city’s decision in a press release last month.
“This is a massive win not only for canal users, but for thousands of families living down gradient of that canal whose health and property values would have been threatened by effluent contaminated water recharging the aquifer,” she wrote. “This is a great example of what citizens can accomplish when they come together to protect their community. I am thrilled that common sense and science prevailed, and I commend the city for doing the right thing.”
Boise steering in a new direction with recycled water
Boise is continuing with its recycled water program, which is part of its Water Renewal Utility Plan passed by Boise City Council last fall, but the main focus will be on industrial reuse and recharging the aquifer instead of piping the water to irrigation canals. The city recently hired a panel of national experts to advise the city on the program and water quality issues.
At the meeting, Boise’s Environmental Manager Haley Falonconer referenced the distrust the city caused with the Farmer’s Union contract.
“We do understand that we did not build trust with that particular project,” Falconer told the National Water Research Institute panel. “…This is a part of that transparent and open process where we are relying on the information and knowledge of experts to build the foundation of our program while it is in its infancy,” Falconer said. “That is part of where we’ve been on recycled water, but it’s not where we’re headed.”