Ada County’s largest drinking water provider says it is skeptical of the City of Boise’s hopes for using recycled wastewater to recharge the region’s aquifer.
Water recycling is a centerpiece of Boise’s strategy to handle growth and combat climate change as summers get hotter and the snowpack shrinks. As part of its water renewal utility plan adopted in 2020, the City of Boise hopes to build a third water renewal facility in the industrial area of southeast Boise to treat its wastewater and send it back to be reused again.
The city’s plan also calls for some of this heavily-treated water to be pumped back into the ground to replenish the sprawling network of aquifers underneath our feet. Boise officials say this will help keep the Treasure Valley ahead of the curve on drought before it gets to critical levels seen elsewhere in the West. It says its plans to pilot treatment techniques and technology before seeking approval will ensure its safety and effectiveness.
But, Suez, the French-owned corporation that provides most of Ada County’s drinking water, is not convinced it won’t hurt its drinking water supply or the status of the valley’s aquifers makes it necessary at all. Suez was recently acquired by another French firm, Veolia. The company says it’s been asking the city to provide more information on how its plans intersect with the company’s operations, how exactly the wastewater will be treated and how the city is planning for dangerous contaminants not yet identified.
“If the aquifers were unintentionally contaminated, it is the community who will ultimately pay the price,” Suez spokesperson Madeline Wyatt wrote in an email to BoiseDev. “Not only will we lose a source of clean drinking water, we will need to build expensive treatment facilities at the existing wells – a cost that is ultimately paid by the customer.”
City of Boise: ‘We are an open book…’
Suez and the City of Boise haven’t seen eye to eye on this project for years.
Starting in 2020 when Boise rolled out its water renewal utility plan, including water recycling, Suez said it was caught off guard. A letter from the company’s legal counsel with Givens Pursley sent a letter to Boise expressing concern with the potential impact to the company’s water supply and frustration at the lack of communication from Boise’s Public Works Department about their plans.
The letter was provided to BoiseDev by Suez in the course of reporting this story and was not made public at the time the plan was being approved.
City of Boise spokesperson Natalie Monro said Suez’s concerns two years ago didn’t fall on deaf ears. She said the city took their criticism to heart and has scheduled more than a dozen meetings with the company since then, including monthly meetings since January, to discuss the water recycling project and its details. Monro said the city is “an open book on this” and wants to be as transparent as possible with the water company and the community as a whole.