A majority of Albany County commissioners have been reluctant to believe the results of multiple studies documenting elevated nitrate concentrations in the Casper Aquifer beneath and adjacent to East Grand subdivisions. These studies attribute the elevated nitrate to domestic septic systems. A recent study completed by Wenck Associates (see Dec. 21, 2019, guest op-ed) provides technical support to these past studies.

The commission’s reluctance is based largely on Robert Starkey’s volunteer efforts, as a septic system owner in an East Grand subdivision, to collect and interpret water quality data from East Grand area water wells. Starkey’s interpretations jive with Commission-member Heber Richardson’s opinion that a septic system removes nitrate from domestic wastewater.

Confidence in this opinion and/or to end the debate, the commission approved and the county helped sponsor and pay for a field study to document the chemistry of water in the rock directly beneath a septic system leachfield. Wenck’s report submitted to the commission in May 2019 documents that high nitrate concentrations are present in water collected from the rock below the leachfield.

One would think that unambiguous proof that a domestic septic system leachfield discharges nitrate-rich water would motivate the County Commission and the Planning and Zoning Commission to use this new information. Perhaps now county decision-makers can “connect the dots” between a nitrate source and elevated nitrate concentrations in the underlying aquifer, and recognize impacts to Casper Aquifer water quality from septic systems regardless of what Robert Starkey postulates without benefit of technical review.

I have not heard any dialogue from the County Commission or from County Planning and Zoning regarding the Wenck study. The Albany County Commission has a duty to provide its constituency (i.e. county and city citizens) a statement regarding how the Wenck study will be used going forward. In other words, how are the County Commission and the County Planning and Zoning Commission going to use best available science for future land-use planning and aquifer protection?

Chris Moody


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