TWIN FALLS — Do Magic Valley's cities have the water supply and wastewater treatment capacity to handle population growth and attract new industry?
Most face significant challenges within the next four to five years.
Twin Falls and Jerome are trying to reduce demand for potable water until they can get more water rights. Filer is still playing catch-up to comply with new arsenic requirements. Gooding and Wendell are tackling costly upgrades. In Burley's industrial park, wastewater load is close to maxing out.
The Times-News examined nine cities around the Magic Valley to find out how prepared their water and wastewater systems are for growth.
The city most ahead of the game? Buhl — where voters in 2006 approved big overhauls.
“If a company wants to come to Buhl, their project will be green-lit,” Mayor Tom McCauley said.
But even in cities with sufficient capacity, new developments are considered case by case. In many instances, large water users have to purchase capacity at wastewater treatment plants. Some cities even require pretreatment of large amounts of wastewater before they can enter a municipal system; ConAgra Foods, for example, supplies half of Twin Falls’ sewage load and is required to pretreat wastewater at its own facility.
And while having capacity to satisfy new demand is a factor, it isn’t the only one. A city’s ability to supply water can depend on where new developments are going in, the time of year and who else competes for that water.
But the Times-News' investigation revealed something else, too: Each of these nine cities is working to make it easier for new companies and industries to move in.
Twin Falls water
While demand on Twin Falls’ water supply has grown with population, water usage per capita has gone down in recent years.
In 2003, peak water usage was between 30 million and 32 million gallons per day, Water Superintendent Robert Bohling said. But pressurized irrigation and conservation ordinances have curbed use of the city’s potable water.
“Right now, residential use is about 56 percent of what we’re pumping,” Bohling said.
Average demand on the system ranges from low periods of 8 million gallons per day in November through April, to as high as 28 million gallons per day in summer. Peak demand in 2015 was about 25 million gallons per day.
Pressurized irrigation water provided through Twin Falls Canal Co. — non-potable ditch water used for landscaping — is now used on lawns in about one-eighth of the city, Bohling said.
That’s because since 2007, all new construction on developments three-quarters of an acre or larger has been required to have pressurized irrigation or put in low-water landscaping. New subdivisions have pressurized irrigation, he said, but it would be cost-prohibitive to tie in older parts of the city to the system.
“We’ve pulled a lot of the parks off city water and onto pressurized irrigation,” Bohling said.
Conservation ordinances put into place in 2004 limit the days and times during which odd- and even-numbered houses can water lawns and landscaping.
Saving water now gives the city time to secure more water rights. Water supply is one of the city’s biggest concerns, as flows have decreased over time.
Twin Falls has the rights to about 56 million gallons of water per day — supplied by 10 wells. But because some of those rights are under protest, the city can legally pump only about 34.7 million gallons per day.
At the projected rate of growth, and without more conservation, officials hope to meet demand for the next 10 years. Bohling predicts the most growth will be in residential, with a 2 percent annual growth in residential water demand over the next decade. By 2063, average daily demand is projected to be 37.8 million gallons per day, compared with the 14.6 million gallons per day seen in 2013.
The city has reserved 3 million to 5 million gallons per day to be used for industrial and commercial growth, Bohling said.
Twin Falls is pursuing water rights for another 35 million to 37 million gallons per day. If successful, Twin Falls could pump nearly 90 million gallons a day, allowing for growth in the years to come.
This year, construction began on a $3.4 million Wills booster station to provide flow for future development on the south side of town.
The city’s main line backbone is weak and in need of major improvements in the northwest part of town, according to the draft facilities plan. Bohling estimates that within five years the city will need to build more water storage tanks.
Twin Falls wastewater
With money left over from a voter-approved bond, Twin Falls is upgrading its wastewater treatment facility to prepare for future industry.
In 2013, voters approved a bond issue of $32 million for technology to increase capacity at the plant and $6 million for collection lines, Assistant City Engineer Troy Vitek said. The $27.3 million facility upgrade boosted capacity to 16 million gallons per day.
Prior to the upgrade, the plant, managed by CH2M Hill Engineers, could process about 9.6 million gallons per day.
The leftover funds will go toward a new $4.4 million headworks, slated to be complete by January 2017. This project, Vitek said, will increase capacity to 18 million gallons per day by filtering out waste such as toilet paper and sand before the water moves on to further treatment.
Average flows into the facility are between 4 million and 7 million gallons per day, depending on the time of year, Vitek said.
Why does the city need so much more capacity? Some companies have purchased capacity they haven't used but may at any time. And the city needed capacity available for future development.
New businesses are handled case by case. Chobani, for example, worked with the city and Urban Renewal Agency to add a pipeline and upgrades at the wastewater treatment plant before opening its yogurt factory. The city requires some new industries to purchase wastewater capacity and pay for the plastic media for bacteria beds at the treatment facility. Industrial properties have flow-monitoring devices and can purchase additional capacity if needed, Vitek said.
Twin Falls also provides limited sewer service for the city of Kimberly.
In Filer, there’s still room for growth in water usage, but the city has much bigger challenges ahead.
Peak usage is about 1,200 gallons per minute, Public Works Director Joe Baratti said, and the current system should be sufficient for at least another 10 years.
The city has five wells; four could run at any given time, able to pump 1,650 to 2,550 gallons per minute. However, the city lost pumping capacity of about 500 gallons per minute when it took its two higher-arsenic wells offline in 2010 or 2011.
“Our available water will increase somewhat when we get an arsenic treatment plant put in,” Baratti said.
Like Twin Falls, Filer also passed an ordinance requiring pressurized irrigation in any new subdivision, to ease demand on potable water. Demand has risen as a result of growth including new subdivisions and schools.
Filer has plenty of capacity for wastewater, but there’s a balance to be maintained, said Robert Hegstrom, area manager for J-U-B Engineers.
The $15 million wastewater treatment plant constructed in 2011 can accommodate half a million gallons per day. Filer currently processes about 185,000 gallons a day.
“We’re running on one-third of the plant right now,” Plant Manager John Hurley said.
But in 2011, the City Council turned down Calva Products Inc., a California-based company that makes formula for infant animals. The problem, Hegstrom said, was the company would “flush” only once every three or four days. The company owner also wasn’t interested in pretreatment.
Had this been approved, bacteria in the treatment system would have feasted and multiplied on busy days, and then died off on slow days, Hegstrom said.
“There’s still a biological process you have to maintain,” he said. “You have to do it right.”
Hurley also was reluctant to start another “train” for just one company. The city is using only one of three trains — biological basins that run wastewater through oxygenated pools of bacteria.
Pretreating wastewater would regulate flow into the system to a more constant pace; it’s also important in making sure the water coming out of the treatment plant meets federal quality standards.
“Wastewater is the worst thing in the world,” Baratti said. “You can’t control what’s in it, but you have to control what comes out.”
Dave Snelson, who represents Filer on the Southern Idaho Economic Development board, said there isn’t much industry in town currently, but Filer is open to recruitment.
“Anything’s on the table,” he said. “Hopefully it’s a clean industry.”
Filer has looked at mostly agriculture-based industry to date, but Snelson said there is room for manufacturing, too.
During peak times, Baratti said, the system takes in up to 225,000 gallons per day. “During the fair, you have literally hundreds of families pulling up their camp trailers and camping for a week.”
Demand has remained steady over the past five years, but the city anticipates about 100 new homes to come in over the next five years — which is significant for a town Filer’s size.
The draft wastewater facilities plan anticipates development to be primarily residential subdivisions, with minimal commercial development in the next 20 years.
After some forward-thinking preparation, Buhl is ready and open for business.
“Buhl did invest early, so we’re ahead of the curve,” McCauley said.
With 70 percent approval in 2006, the city's voters approved a $23 million bond issue for large improvements to its water and wastewater plants to meet tightened federal standards.
Now, Buhl could handle another 4,000 homes, McCauley said.
“We could double our population and not even miss a heartbeat,” City Engineer Scott Bybee said. “We have a lot of room at the inn.”
The city’s $8 million treatment plant for arsenic, constructed in 2010, helped increase Buhl’s water availability, Bybee said. On average, the city’s residents and businesses use 700,000 gallons per day.
While Buhl’s population has hovered around 4,000 for years, the city has seen a recent influx of applications for new home starts and businesses.
“We’ve had more growth in homes this year in terms of numbers than we’ve had in 15 years,” Bybee said.
It’s on a comparatively small scale: Since October the city has seen nine new residential permits, versus the typical three.
“That’s a big deal for us,” he said. “What that means is Buhl is growing.”
The city also has vacancies for commercial and industrial businesses in older buildings and warehouses, McCauley said.
The $15 million wastewater treatment project in 2011 more than doubled the city’s wastewater capacity, Bybee said. The city switched from its lagoon system to oxidation ditches after it was not able to meet higher standards for treated wastewater entering the Snake River.
“We’ve got two-thirds of our plant available for growth,” he said. And the plant is designed to be expanded.
Buhl treats about 300,000 gallons per day.
For the past six or seven years, the city has spent about $1 million a year in replacing its water and wastewater lines. Many of those are the original lines, 70 years or older, and are heavily deteriorated; the city has made progress in replacing the worst of them.
Jerome has the ability to pump more water than it has rights to and, like Twin Falls, will likely pursue more water rights.
The city could deliver about 7,780 gallons per minute but has rights to only about 5,726 gallons per minute. Average demand is about 1,500 gallons per minute.
With the current rate of growth, Jerome will need to secure more water rights by 2020, Water Supervisor Larry Bybee said. The city could do this by direct purchase, by land acquisition or by converting surface rights to groundwater rights by pumping water into the ground.
“Traditionally, you have to look at just direct purchase,” Larry Bybee said, but Jerome is looking at all of its options.
Meanwhile, Jerome is part of a coalition of cities that may be subject to curtailment of groundwater rights that originated after 1983.
“Everything that falls after that curtailment date is subject to be shut off,” he said. Fish producer Rangen has senior rights and sought a curtailment order last year that would have put 19 percent of Jerome’s water source in jeopardy; the coalition was able to hold off curtailment at the last minute.
Jerome will look at surrounding areas in the same aquifer to purchase rights. More senior rights are preferred, but also more expensive.
Jerome’s is a two-fold approach to ensure the city has enough water; conservation efforts are also key.
“We want to help our customers use as little as possible,” Larry Bybee said.
When voters didn’t approve money for wastewater facility upgrades, Jerome got the money by going through the courts.
Its need was urgent. Last year, the city agreed to pay $86,000 in fines to the federal government for violations of the Clean Water Act between 2007 and 2012. The Environmental Protection Agency discovered untreated waste overflowing into the canal.
“We met the compliance because we made some changes to the facility. It didn’t take care of the deficiency,” Jerome Public Services Director Gilbert Sanchez said. “We needed to upgrade our facility to meet today’s standards.”
When voters shot down a $48 million bond issue in 2013, the city was able to borrow $35.8 million through a judge’s approval.
The $5.5 million first phase of the upgrade was completed in March 2015 and increased the city’s hydraulic, or flow, capacity. When the $24.6 million next phase is complete, the wastewater treatment facility will be able to handle 4.3 million gallons per day on average, with a peak hourly flow of 9.41 million gallons. The facility was previously designed for 3 million gallons per day with a peak hourly flow of 6 million gallons.
Jerome currently sees an average daily flow of 2.73 million gallons per day.
The city’s major contributors of organic content are Jerome Cheese, Idaho Milk Products and Darigold. The project's next phase will increase the facility's capacity to handle organic content from 13,370 to 30,860 pounds. Capacity for handling solids will increase from 9,020 to 14,500 pounds.
While Jerome Cheese is the largest user of the city’s wastewater facility — with a permitted limit of 900,000 gallons per day — it isn’t the largest user of city water because it has its own well.
“They save some money on the front end but pay it on the back end,” Sanchez said.
Jerome does not currently require pretreatment but may consider doing so.
In Wendell, things take their time — but growth may speed them up.
The city uses only about a 10th of its permitted capacity. While it’s allowed to pump more than 2 billion gallons per year, it used 235 million gallons in 2015.
The city has been able to keep up with growth but needs to upgrade water lines that were installed years ago and are now undersized for today’s capacity, licensed operator Bob Bailey said. It spends about $50,000 to $100,000 per year on replacing lines and doing other upgrades.
The city eventually will turn its attention to the south side of the freeway, in its area of impact. While this area is currently served by private wells, it has sewer service. Administrator Brad Christopherson said city leaders intend to extend water service to there — but after the city's wastewater project is over, possibly in another two years.
After about a decade, Wendell is approaching completion of upgrades to its wastewater facilities.
The expansion included a new 28 million-gallon lagoon and increased the land application site from 40 to 240 acres. It also upgraded trunk lines to meet anticipated maximum capacity.
“The new lagoon is way larger than all the other lagoons combined,” Bailey said.
To date, Wendell has spent about $6 million of the $11.6 million bond issue approved for the project, designed to meet growth for the next 20 years, Christopherson said. In the next phase, the city will fix and upgrade failing lines.
Problems in research and development delayed the planning. Once construction started, he said, the project went more smoothly.
Bailey anticipates residential and commercial growth picking up, as residential building permits have already increased and new businesses have moved in during the past year.
“The empty businesses have filled up,” Christopherson said.
Any large commercial businesses would require annexation into the 1.4-square-mile city due to land availability and neighboring zones.
While other cities are conserving potable water by requiring new homes to use pressurized irrigation, Gooding is doing the opposite.
“The city previously had a surface flood irrigation system that became inoperable,” said Todd Bunn, public works director.
City officials determined that replacing that system would be too costly. Because one system is cheaper than two, they decided to switch all watering over to the potable water system.
To meet the increased demand, the city will add two wells and more piping. The $7 million project should be complete within the next year, Bunn said.
Gooding had water rights to about 4.6 million gallons per day. This project doubles that, as the Department of Water Resources granted the city more rights. To receive them, the city had to mitigate the impact by recharging the aquifer — letting water from its Little Wood River water rights soak into the soil, Bunn said.
Currently, peak demand is about 3.1 million gallons per day.
“With these additional wells, we expect that to provide drinking water for the city up until 2052,” Bunn said. The new wells will be online each year from April through October.
Because Gooding's irrigation system wasn’t pressurized, homeowners using the 75-year-old irrigation system were required to wait for their turn, a specific time they were allowed to water.
“It was just not practical to use anymore,” Bunn said.
The new wells and piping for the drinking water system cost about half of what was estimated to replace the antiquated irrigation system.
Although the city is able to meet demands on its wastewater treatment plant, the plant is operating on an administratively extended permit which was set to expire nine years ago.
“The EPA is still working on getting us a new permit,” Bunn said.
Gooding officials expect the new permit, when it’s issued, to include stricter wastewater standards.
The city’s 1981 wastewater treatment plant was built to handle 700,000 gallons per day. Average flows are 250,000 gallons per day, and peak flows reach 450,000 gallons per day.
The city is working on a facilities plan to determine its plant’s abilities and what improvements may be needed. Bunn did not know when the city would receive its new permit.
“We’re in no hurry.”
In Burley, water supply isn’t an issue yet.
Burley has three completely separate water/wastewater systems, Administrator Mark Mitton said: its main system, its industrial park system and a third system previously used by a potato processor. The latter eventually will be tied into the main one but isn’t being used now — though the city is trying to recruit industry there.
The main system serves the bulk of residential and commercial customers. Combined with its industrial system, the average daily flows are 3.5 million gallons per day. The city has water rights for at least triple that amount if needed, Mitton said, and the current system could easily double what it’s pumping.
The city also has unused water capacity for its industrial park in Heyburn but won’t be able to add new users there until land improvements can take place.
For the city’s industrial park, wastewater facility usage is close to maxing out. Mitton estimates 25 percent of the capacity remains.
It’s not an immediate concern, however, because future development there is stalled.
“The property we have left is going to take a lot of excavation and refill,” Mitton said.
The industrial users would have to put in another 500,000 to 600,000 gallons per day before the system would be overloaded.
At the municipal treatment plant, the city’s peak flows are about 2.5 million gallons per day, with a capacity of 4 million gallons. Although there’s no immediate need for expansion here, the city could increase capacity by up to 10 million gallons per day with a $5 million expansion.
“I think we’ll continue to grow and we’ll continue to attract business,” Mitton said.
Based on 2.5 percent annual growth in water use, Superintendent Greg Richins said Heyburn should have enough water until 2035. Maximum demand on the system is about 1.3 million gallons per day.
This spring, Heyburn finished installing more than a mile of new water line as part of a $2 million reconstruction of 21st Street, Richins said. There are still areas where main lines need to be replaced and upsized, particularly on the city's fringes.
Heyburn is working to contract with two engineering firms to conduct surveys on its sewer system and wastewater treatment facility. That will help the city determine what improvements are needed.
In 2012, the city replaced more than a mile of main wastewater collection line.
“It was to replace aging infrastructure and to increase it in size for future capacity,” Richins said.
Pumps, motors and other system components will need to be replaced at the treatment plant.
“We are looking at replacing some drying beds,” Richins said. “Structurally they’re fine, but it’s time to do some upgrades to improve them.”
Drying beds separate the water and the solids on a concrete pad, and it will cost the city $20,000 each to replace two or three of them.
Richins said the city’s growth has been steady the past few years. “We feel like we’re in pretty good shape considering where we’re at.”
The last major improvements to Rupert’s water system were in 2000, but it’s about time for more.
“With some of the growth that we’re starting to see, we’re going to have to start doing things,” Water Superintendent James Taylor said.
This work will include water line replacement and a new well. The city also needs to determine the problem with one of its wells, which was installed in 2000 and is seeing decreased yield. The city took that well offline; Taylor thinks the problem may be a plugged screen.
Rupert’s pumps typically can push out a maximum of 7,000 gallons per minute, Taylor said. Actual flows vary from 1,000 gallons per minute in winter to 2,500 gallons per minute in summer.
Rupert has seen a recent boom in residential subdivisions, but usage hasn’t changed much because new subdivisions use pressurized irrigation. This is not required by ordinance, but Taylor said the city may decide to. It currently requires pressurized irrigation in development agreements.
Taylor estimates the city will need to do improvements by 2025 to keep up with growth.
Rupert’s wastewater treatment facility should be able to handle the 20-year growth projections made in 2012, but that’s subject to change.
“We are getting a lot more growth than we anticipated,” Wastewater Supervisor David Joyce said.
The facility was designed for an average of 2.5 million gallons per day, with a maximum of 5 million gallons per day, Joyce said. The city’s flows are averaging about 1.6 million gallons per day.
Since upgrades in 2012 expanded capacity, there haven’t been any major projects at the facility. The city plans to do some sewer line replacement as needed.
“We have the capacity for more industry,” Joyce said.
Industries, particularly food manufacturing, contribute about 65 to 70 percent of the waste coming in. Rupert does not require pretreatment by its industries, but user agreements with companies place limits on the amount of wastewater and what’s in it.