Ada County is considering a plan to use COVID-19 relief funds to help bring water to Southwest Boise homeowners with drinking water wells in danger of running dry.
Last summer, issues with residents living on the outskirts of Boise city limits losing their well water hit the news. While the region’s overall water supply remains stable, the rapid increase of development in the area heavily impacted shallow wells of less than 100 feet used by private homeowners. This left some residents forced to borrow water from neighbors while they either found a well driller to dig them a deeper well or they paid tens of thousands of dollars to Veolia, Ada County’s private water company, to run a water line to their home.
Ada County Commissioners are exploring using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and possibly another federal grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to run a water line out to in Southwest Boise instead of forcing homeowners to pay the tens of thousands of dollar fees to Veolia themselves. This move would potentially take hundreds of wells offline and put customers onto Ada County’s water system, giving them reliable sources of drinking water.
Commissioner Kendra Kenyon called the potential impacts to residents of the Southwest Boise area “a brewing disaster” if there isn’t a more holistic solution to the drying, shallow wells instead of asking individual homeowners to fend for themselves.
“The last thing any of us want is for 160 individuals to be trying to drill new wells, going deeper into the aquifer,” she told BoiseDev. “We also do not have adequate well standards and so there’s a high potential of contamination and that’s the last thing anyone wants. It’s very expensive as well.”
Up first? A study
Ada County wouldn’t fit the whole bill for the project.
During a meeting earlier this summer discussing the idea, Kenyon said county staff has identified 20 wells that have gone dry in the area since last summer and homeowners are using water from neighbors to fill buckets in the meantime. With the help of the Idaho Department of Water Resources, Kenyon said the county has identified another 160 wells in the same area dug less than 100 feet that are in danger of going dry in the next year or two.
The first step of the project would be funding an engineering study to develop the scope of the project for $250,000. Then, Ada County would have to use ARPA funds to match 20% of the cost to put in a water line with funds from FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities grant to pay for the installation. The BRIC grant is a nationally competitive grant and the funds are not guaranteed, but Kenyon said conversations she’s had about the county’s changes have been encouraging.
The county estimates the first phase of a water line to connect 160 customers would cost $2.7 million. If the county were to connect all 500 lots with wells in the area, it would cost roughly $11.7 million.
Why aren’t these homes in Boise city limits?
Annexation and Southwest Boise have a long, messy history.
The area on Boise’s southwest edge below Victory Road was originally envisioned to be annexed into the City of Boise decades ago. It began with a series of septic tank failures in the 1970s, which resulted in the county issuing a moratorium on development until the city agreed to start paying for sewer service out to the area with the assumption it would be eventually annexed.
Between the 1970s and 1990s, the City of Boise spent millions toward building sewer infrastructure in Southwest Boise after residents opted not to form their own sewer districts. According to state law at the time, accepting Boise sewer service signaled consent to annexation later.
Boise started annexing sections of the southwestern portion of the city in the late 90s and early 2000s, but they were heavily opposed by residents, Tomlinson said. The most recent annexation in 2004 ended in multiple lawsuits against the City of Boise and took years to complete. Since then, the city hasn’t pursued it.
Kenyon floated the idea of having the City of Boise annex the homes in this area if Ada County paid to have all of the homes connected to water in the meeting earlier this summer, but after some meetings with city officials said this is no longer an option. She said instead the city is considering partnering with Ada County to apply for the grant from FEMA, but annexation is not part of the discussion.
“It’s probably more political than anything,” Kenyon said about Boise declining to annex the area. “I can’t speak for the people who live out there, but I do feel really positive about a partnership with the City of Boise and trying to find a long-term solution. They’ve had folks that are in the city that are right contiguous to this area that are having issues with water in this same vicinity.”