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Sarah Gorin

Guest columnist

Decisions made by our elected officials today will determine the safety and quality of our drinking water for generations.

More than a year ago, Albany County authorities withdrew their injunction against reactivation of the “Tumbleweed” gas station on Bluebird Lane, despite serious questions of compliance with county zoning regulations.

Reactivation of the gas station has resulted in 33,000 gallons of fuel storage — plus a steady stream of vehicles pumping fuel — smack on top of our drinking water aquifer every single day since.

In February of 2020, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality cited Tumbleweed’s operators for failing to report and investigate a possible leak from their storage tanks as required by state law. Fortunately, subsequent testing showed no leak — so far.

Although it’s popular to say that a tanker truck wreck on I-80 is the greatest threat to our aquifer, the possible spill of a 10,000-gallon tanker pales next to the here-and-now concern of the 33,000 gallons in old fuel tanks at the gas station right on the edge of town.

When the injunction against Tumbleweed was withdrawn, the Albany County Commissioners embarked on a process to supposedly “strengthen” the county’s aquifer protection regulations.

The first round of proposed revisions ended in a flood of negative public comment because the proposals not only didn’t increase the safety of our water, they also weakened some existing regulations.

Further work on the revisions has been postponed until after the election, apparently in an effort to get aquifer and water-related issues out of the public eye for the next two months.

Albany County Clean Water Advocates work to keep the safety of our drinking water in the public eye at all times. To that end, we have surveyed all the County Commission and City Council candidates on aquifer protection and related drinking water issues.

You may read their responses on our website at: albanycountycleanwateradvocates.org.

County Commission candidate (incumbent) Terri Jones did not respond to the questionnaire; nor did City Council candidates Mark Andrews or Tim Hale (both Ward 2).

Everyone who gets their drinking water from the City of Laramie municipal system, plus the many county residents who rely on private domestic wells east of town, are fortunate to drink “upstream from the herd.”

County Commissioners and City Council members make policy decisions that will keep our water clean — or not.

And because most of the Aquifer Protection Overlay Zone lies under county jurisdiction, there’s good reason for voters within the city limits — who constitute 86% of county residents — to pay attention to County Commission campaigns.

The County Commission, through the exercise of its zoning authority, has the first and foremost responsibility for protecting our drinking water. The majority of the current commissioners have been reluctant to exercise this authority; instead they have attacked established scientific data, resisted efforts to gather new data, and deflected responsibility to other entities.

The idea that someone else will safeguard the aquifer is purely wishful thinking. Yes, the Environmental Protection Agency will shut down our municipal water supply if it ever goes over the drinking water standards — when it’s too late. Individual well owners can deepen their wells (at their own expense) in search of better water if their wells become contaminated.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality will inspect the gas station on the aquifer every two years, if budget cuts allow them to get around to it. Had it not been for the on-site inspection conducted by DEQ earlier this year, the violation at Tumbleweed wouldn’t have come to light until months later.

An actual leak potentially could go on for months with no one but the operators being the wiser.

Water doesn’t recognize political boundaries. Albany County Clean Water Advocates believe that a unified, cooperative approach between city and county elected officials and staff offers the best way forward for preventing degradation of our drinking water.

Such an effort will require city councilors and county commissioners who are willing to work together, rely on the best available scientific data about our groundwater, and promote efforts to continually improve our knowledge base and monitoring procedures.

We respectfully urge voters to carefully consider the information offered by the candidates’ responses — or lack of responses — to our questionnaire, as you decide in whose hands you wish to place the safety of your drinking water.

Sarah Gorin is president of Albany County Clean Water Advocates.

Sarah Gorin is president of Albany County Clean Water Advocates.

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