City Government

Scientist Warns About Waste Water In Canal

Richard Llewellyn, PhD Biochemistry

Boise City plans to dump water they claim is “treated” into the Farmers Union Canal and the practice could be costly for water users and property owners alike.

Turns out the water is laced with trace chemicals from dozens of sources and it just may lead to a massive government mandated clean up requirement. They like to use the term “water renewal,” but true renewal is costly and not in the plan.

That’s why an increasing number of water users are saying that the City of Boise’s plan to dispose of ‘forever chemicals’ into our region’s iconic irrigation canals needs a lot more serious review … before we give “America’s Most Livable City” a “forever headache”.

PFAS — per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances — are a fancy way of saying the trace chemicals that end up in our wastewater that aren’t captured by our water treatment plants. Along with thousands of other chemicals from shampoos to birth control pills, antidepressants, and antibiotics, as well as the contaminants sent to the plants by industrial and medical facilities, these aren’t removed by wastewater treatment. They aren’t the pee, but they’re in the pee … and in many of the other stuff we send down the drain.

They don’t belong in our irrigation water … or in the crops and gardens that we grow with the vital water on which they depend. Nor do they belong in our groundwater, where our irrigation water ends up.

In a nutshell, the problem is that the chemical reality of wastewater has diverged so far from the standard treatment technology that it is plausible that just by irrigating with recycled water we could end up with property that exceeds future standards for hazardous designation. Hazardous–as in, you may need to excavate and truck your soil to a hazardous waste site before anyone will buy your land.

If that statement sounds incredibly far fetched then read on. Sewage treatment plants were designed to deal with sewage. A city like Boise does a good job with that and strives to do better. That alone isn’t easy, and requires significant long term investment especially as a city grows or infrastructure budgets fall. Search online and every week you will see a sewage spill somewhere across the country.

Today, however, municipal wastewater is not just sewage but a complex mixture of tens of thousands of chemicals. Many of these are ‘endocrine disruptors’–chemicals that mimic hormones and interfere with the body’s internal communication at trace levels. Collectively these substances are known as Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs). PFAS is one that has emerged like an 800-lb gorilla busting into a board room.

PFAS make up a family of thousands of related chemicals — fluorinated carbon chains that are used widely in industry to make oil- and water-resistant coatings. They are best known for their use in Teflon, but are also in fire-fighting foams, industrial coatings, stain resistant carpeting, and many consumer products. Eventually they end up concentrated in municipal wastewater.

Some top researchers conclude that essentially no amount of PFAS is safe in drinking water, and yet it is not regulated at the federal level, though many individual states have recently passed standards in the parts per trillion levels, and for soils in the parts per million to billion. Contamination from wastewater treatment plants are already triggering lawsuits — Orange County, California, for example, has started closing wells while considering a billion dollar lawsuit against chemical manufactures due to PFAS contamination they blame on treated municipal wastewater discharges upstream.

Because these ‘forever’ chemicals may take almost forever to degrade, a back of the envelope calculation gives us an idea of how much PFAS will be carried to your land, and how much can be expected to remain. For that, we have to deal with a few numbers, and a whole bunch of decimal points:

For every part per trillion (ppt) of PFAS in the effluent, you could get 2 milligrams of PFAS in the water used to irrigate one acre for one season, after accounting for dilution in the canal.

Once on your property, the chemicals will either leave in runoff, go down into the groundwater, up into plants, or remain in your soil. Each of the thousands of types of PFAS will move differently. Certain crops take them up more efficiently — for example corn has been found to store more than 12% of one kind of PFAS.

We’ll also assume you are a good steward and keep the water on your land in a small (24×24 foot) waterfowl marsh rather than letting it run off. For a rough calculation, let’s assume half of the added PFAS accumulates in the top yard of soil in that marsh.

This adds about PFAS 0.017 micrograms per kg soil per year for each 1 ppt PFAS in the effluent. And as it is likely that the effluent from Boise will have at least five ppt PFAS, multiply that by five. After the 25 year contract with Farmers Union Ditch Co, you could have about two micrograms in each kg of soil.

What does this mean for you? A microgram may be a tiny amount, but individual state soil standards enacted within the last few years have a vast range of thresholds — with one milligram per kg fairly common, but for areas that are easily accessible and drain to important groundwater, some levels are far lower — as low as half a microgram per kg. Crucially, there are currently no federal standards at all, but many experts assume that PFAS will soon be listed as a hazardous substance, either as individual chemicals or in groups.

If coming federal standards reflect the more stringent regulations, the seemingly preposterous is true–you could be faced with having hazardous soils within a decade simply by irrigating. And as good science supports the most strict standards, especially to protect the health of pregnant women and children–the real issue will be whether it is feasible to enforce them.

The WateReuse Association, a member of which Boise has contracted to advise on using recycled water, is energetically lobbying all levels of government that the wastewater industry be exempt from any PFAS liability. The question remains as to whether those of us who continue using our shares of water as we have for more than a century will also be exempt — and whether we can convince any future buyer that they will be too.

This is just a back of the envelope calculation, but it shows that a serious investigation is needed. One might assume that an agency will do it for us — but, as an Idahoan, it should come as no shock that you need to look out for yourself and for your neighbors: Idaho DEQ recently granted the City of Nampa a similar water recycling permit for the Phyllis Canal, and PFAS was not mentioned once.

Be sure to comment to Boise City Council this Sept 15 to voice your concerns on any future plan for water reuse.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. chicago sam
    Aug 27, 2020, 5:52 pm

    Dr. Liewellyn has written before on the hazards of some of these chemicals specifically the Dynamis garbage recycling plant which wanted to vent their smokestack exhaust which would have covered the pristine north end and subjected the grazing animals as well as humans to potential hazards.
    I take him seriously but if the Farmers Union Canal is not appropriate why is it more appropriate to dump into the Boise River where downstream water is taken out of the Boise River by other irrigation Districts. Not sure I see a solution here.

  2. Eamonn Harter
    Aug 27, 2020, 7:28 pm

    What is the concentration of PFAS in the soils at the 20 Mile South Farm in Kuna? I would think it would have the highest level of PFAS and other nasties anywhere in the valley.

  3. Richard Llewellyn
    Aug 27, 2020, 8:07 pm

    Hi Chicago Sam,
    Agree that these go down the river isn’t great either. The problem here is that we’ve already contaminated the Boise River, and users downstream of the wastewater treatment plants have adjusted accordingly. Contaminating a high quality source of water that people have relied on for well recharge, organic gardening, as well as potentially much of the Lower Dry Creek aquifer that recharges Eagle’s municipal wells makes no sense. The Farmers Union Canal, an extension of the original Boise Valley Canal, gets its water above Boise’s wastewater plants, and so is of high quality. In general, taking a concentrated source of contaminants and spreading them over a new area isn’t a good idea, especially when they don’t degrade and will accumulate over the years.

  4. Richard Llewellyn
    Aug 27, 2020, 8:44 pm

    Hi Eamonn,

    I believe that Boise has been collecting data on that — would be a good Public Records Request. Yes, it is likely a problem too — likely more concentrated on 20 Mile Farm — whereas the Farmers Union Canal serves more than 9000 acres. It’s rather tragic — biosolids seemed to make sense but again, they also collect all this chemical non-crap, and that’s a real problem. You may have read about the dairy being shut down in Maine due to PFAS in which biosolids have been implicated.

  5. Such a long history to learn from... but we don't.
    Aug 27, 2020, 9:58 pm

    Take a look at some of the superfund sites caused by chemicals back east. Locally, fire fighting foam and goldmines comes to mind. It’s really nuts to dump chemicals that will need to be cleaned up in the future, yet here we are with the city’s best and brightest planning to do just that. The green crowd thinks a compost bin will degrade plutonium into harmless nutrients for the garden, so thank you sir for posting this important info. I doubt it will stay in the surface soil. It’s no secret the aquifer is in part replenished by irrigation. This puts fresh water wells at risk too. Maybe we can bottle it and sell to idiots in the Bay Area as ‘Boise’s Best’ reclaimed spring water.

    While we are on the topic. Who does a person call when their idiot neighbor is gassing the entire block daily with an insecticide fogger. Based on the strength of it I suspect someone is using a professional or agricultural chemical in the residential backyard. Don’t answer unless you actually know who to call.

  6. This is a looming health/environmental problem and a looming financial cost to everyone. Boise City documents for the waste water project show the next 20 years will require an investment of $380–$580 million to replace aging infrastructure and $240–$350 million to address future capacity needs. Suggested options to cover costs across multiple years:

    Rate Increases
    25% – 2021
    15% – 2022
    15% – 2023
    15% – 2024

    Bond (debt) Financing
    $67 million – 2022
    $135 million – 2025
    $80 million – 2028

    City records showed an 8% proposed rate increase for year 2021, which was reconsidered to be 3% based on impacts of COVID-19. Have not received that notification in the mail yet, but have received plenty of “water propaganda” in the newsletter insert that now comes with the utility bill.

    We have at least $50 million tucked under the matress from Bieter’s library/civic center dream, which should go towards the costs of this critical infrastructure.

  7. Newspeak glossary:

    sewage treatment = water renewal

    …makes it much more palatable and potable!

  8. While accurate and alarming, it’s irrelevant. It’s already in your food, water, clothes, detergents, lotions, etc. unless it’s all banned and forever removed, the damage is done regardless of where it’s dumped

  9. Richard Llewellyn
    Aug 28, 2020, 2:50 pm

    Hello Fat Kitty,

    While there is certainly already more PFAS around than we want, in Idaho the likely concentrations are where fire fighting foams (AFFF) have been used in training, landfills, and municipal wastewater treatment plants, especially those that take discharge from industries like metal plating. Those point sources should be carefully controlled. The hazardous levels I referenced have taken into account typical soil background levels and been adjusted upward accordingly. Those places that are likely less contaminated (eg the Lower Dry Creek Aquifer) become even more valuable. And finally, one hears this argument in many different ways — during the Dynamis waste incinerator battle, people in favor (which included some environmentalists as the EPA was pushing Waste to Energy as a green solution) would often make a similar argument — since there is already so much mercury in the air in Idaho (wildfires, and Eastern Oregon’s cement plants) what harm would be done to add significantly more? Of course from a biological standpoint the answer should be clear — this isn’t about maintaining some idealized purity but about the accumulation of physical risk.

  10. This sounds like the 2020 equivalent of the frontier adage, “ALWAYS drink upstream from the herd!”

  11. Thanks everyone. The problem in part is the city and Farmers Union are in charge of the testing. They ARE NOT testing for a range of permanent chemicals (chemicals that do not break down) and are bio-active and cumulative. They ARE ALSO avoiding review from other monitoring bodies. Monitoring bodies I will add that have had there budget gutted from present and past years of cuts. We are in “late stage capitalism”. Similar to before Rome fell. Everyone wants theirs and no one wants to pay for the quality steps necessary to get there.

    Solution: 1. This was originally a heat problem.
    A: solve the heat problem by cooling the water. Do this by simple low cost means. Churn the water and cause evaporation. Examples: Small water falls, Shaded rapids and water features

    2. There are unmonitored pollutants in the water.
    A. 2 PARTS: follow existing (low cost) solutions to measure and test for all pollutants.
    B. Plant things known to absorb and concentrate said pollutants in the water features

    3. The city AND the state is resisting paying for this. Yes, this is a state issue as much as a city issue. WHY?: The water travels over boarders, city, county etc.This also sets a precedent for a way to get around safety regulations.

    Tell your friends. THIS IS NOT COOL. If this happens at all it is impossible to reverse. Once it starts the water table is contaminated with an unknown amount of “unknown” literally as Judy so correctly pointed out.

    It is our land that will be known forever as “contaminated”. Property values, food quality, health.

    Response to the city:
    This is water ‘reuse’
    A: FALSE- it is NOT pure safe water.

    This water is not released into the river.
    A: FALSE- all water drains back to the river, this just contaminates a bunch of land on the way.

    This saves us money.
    A: FALSE- see above AND this costs in property values, lost revenue from farms, potential cleanup.

    Organic growers have nothing to fear.
    A: FALSE- Pfos and other lasting chemicals are an anthropogenic fluorosurfactant and global pollutant (source Wikipedia) and listed as a disqualifier for organic certification.

    Don’t worry about ratings.
    A: I don’t want other peoples B rating in my carrots!?!

  12. Let’s shed some more light on the nature of this problem.
    PFAS- What are they and Why are they a problem?
    Definition of one subgroup, the fluorosurfactants or fluorinated surfactants, have a fluorinated “tail” and a hydrophilic “head” and are thus surfactants. They are more effective at reducing the surface tension of water than comparable hydrocarbon surfactants. Taken from Wikipedia

    Yes, a surfactant is a form of soap. It cleans things because it makes water wetter!?! Basically, liquids affected by surfactants have less surface tension and flow easier into other molecules and surfaces like the rocks in your back yard. They also mess with the water and stuff in your body. They do not break down and to remove them your liver and kidneys must concentrate them and then transport them out.

    Yes, poop and pee.

    And again, this stuff is slippery. Your body has trouble sorting it from the other liquids inside you.

    If this problem persists, processes in your body don’t work right. This has health problems that eventually cause systems to break completely in unpredictable ways.


    Basically, do you want a drop of dish detergent on your corn or beets?

  13. Richard Llewellyn
    Aug 29, 2020, 9:21 am

    I focused on PFAS in this writing, as an example of an Contaminant of Emerging Concern (CEC) that is unquestionably emerging and will no longer be ignored. But there many other issues — for example, how wastewater treatment plants essentially catalyze the evolution of antibiotic resistance bacteria, and though a well-operated plant kills almost all of them, the DNA passes through to the bizarre ancient world of ‘semi-autonomous mobile genetic elements’ consisting of phages (virus that infect bacteria), transposons, plasmids, etc, that specialize in collecting DNA and carrying it to other bacteria — eg the ones in your soil. On the other end of the complexity spectrum, there are the salts in recycled water, which could make growing in alkaline Idaho soils all the more difficult.

  14. Concerned Neighbor
    Aug 29, 2020, 1:50 pm

    This seems to boil down to 2 things:
    1. We don’t know what the future will bring.
    2. We don’t care about people downstream because they’ll “adjusted accordingly”.

    While I think that most of what Boise politicos push for “green” is instead “brown” and just creates more pollution, water is one of those things that we’ll continue to have less of. Why can’t we “adjusted accordingly” like everyone assumes that downstreamers will? The only question I have is how many vertical feet does the water have to be pumped, if any? It takes a massive amount of electricity to move water against gravity, and in this case would be 100% wasteful.

  15. chicago sam
    Aug 29, 2020, 9:00 pm

    Well folks I think $$$$$$ has alerted you to some of what’s coming down the road for Boise just as Nampa sewer rates are projected to compound annually at 16% for several years with a $165 million loan in addition.
    An online look at PFAS reveals it is a major problem already in many parts of the country with Idaho having two sites identified at the military basses at Gowen Field and Mountain Home.
    So far no major problem with drinking water which is identified as a prime source nationally. But what is the testing revealing at the source point for drinking water in Boise or anywhere else in the Treasure Valley. There are filters which supposedly help at your tap at home.
    Sewage is quite a different problem and will a much slower build up if dispersed on farmland or compost, but the effluent source from the sewer plants should be the focus of fixing the problem–not just dispersing it in the nearest canal or sending it down the river to your friends and neighbors.

  16. Richard has a personal interest in this as the Farmers Union Canal goes right through his property. Nothing wrong with a personal interest.

    Richard writes, “Agree that these go down the river isn’t great either. The problem here is that we’ve already contaminated the Boise River, and users downstream of the wastewater treatment plants have adjusted accordingly.”

    I’m not at all clear what “adjusted accordingly” means in the context of PFAS.

    Richard and Boise seem to be in a privileged position of having first access to the best water coming out of the mountains with Richard having access to the canal water upstream of the Lander street “water renewal” plant.

    I’d like to know more how the Farmers Union Canal recharges the Eagle municipal water.

    I’d like to hear more about what solutions are available to the identified problems.

    Re PFAS:

  17. Richard Llewellyn
    Aug 30, 2020, 11:49 am

    Hi Chicago — I agree that our best chance at dealing with PFAS and other nasties is at the municipal discharge point — everyone knows controlling a point source of contamination (and especially one that doesn’t degrade) is better than dispersing it. Activated carbon does a pretty good job with PFAS — not perfect and is expensive — but perhaps less expensive in the long run than contaminating either a new area (via the Farmers Union Canal) or continuing to send it down the river. Likely the costs would come down for treatment if the standards required it — but right now we are in this limbo of knowing the danger, but not acknowledging it when it matters.

  18. Richard Llewellyn
    Aug 30, 2020, 11:56 am

    Hi Davis,
    Yes — I absolutely, along with thousands of others — have a very strong personal interest in maintaining the quality of water in the Farmers Union Canal. It may have sounded callous in suggesting that Boise River downstreamers such as yourself ‘have adjusted accordingly.’ I meant that with regards to recharge of domestic wells — folks living along the Boise River downstream of Boise rarely drink from the shallow aquifer recharged by the river. There may be more folks than I realize, but the contamination from PFAS and other CECs most certainly already exists. That in contrast to the area served by the Farmers Union Canal, which, is exactly as described — we are in a privileged position (and have been for the last 120 years) regarding having high quality water to recharge our domestic wells. And we want to keep it that way. And we should do better in cleaning up the river. Solutions do exist (eg activated carbon) but they aren’t cheap, though perhaps cheaper in the long run.

  19. Richard Llewellyn
    Aug 30, 2020, 12:05 pm

    And maybe I didn’t state one problem with sending the inadequately treated effluent down the Farmers Union Canal — the concentration of PFAS and other CECs in the canal water would be far higher — about 10X than in the river much of the summer — and yet this water flows through our properties, in ponds our kids play in, and recharges our wells.


    Micron treats all of their effluents with massive water saturation to get the PPM down. I don’t know if the Boise system can mimic that feat. THIS…..should tell all growth lovers that we NEED TO STOP GROWING!

  21. Night Trader
    Aug 31, 2020, 8:16 am

    Ain’t growth wonderful !!!

  22. Sweetheats for Politicos
    Aug 31, 2020, 12:44 pm

    Hey, I’d like to know who are the biggest polluters in the valley (air and water), who are the biggest water users in the valley, and who are the biggest sewer users in the valley.

    Do any of them have a sweetheart deal on sewer, water, and pollution fees? How about on all their other taxes? The local governments have been shameless in raising taxes and fees on the little guy business and residential.

  23. What’s In It For You?
    Aug 31, 2020, 1:14 pm

    A double-whammy to your wallet with higher rates and higher property taxes due to growth – oops, I mean “progress” – and no impact fees for water infrastructure.

    The City will be doubling-down on the future financial impact to citizens and businesses if they continue to upzone, which increases the number of water users for the existing infrastructure. And annexing Boise’s Area of Impact along the southern border will drive the costs allocated to extending future capacity needs. The recent Memos from Public Works to the City Council acknowledge that delivering water to a greater distance and collecting it back from a greater distance to clean it is expensive.

    Even if you don’t live in Boise, growth and increased density also places an undue burden on Ada County to provide its required services, which results in the need for more money via the annual 3% budget increase.

    At what point does the following stated purpose of Idaho’s Local Land Use Planning Act apply – – “To avoid undue concentration of population and overcrowding of the land.”

  24. Hi Richard,

    So you meant by “adjusted accordingly” that citizens down stream of the Lander Street Sewage Treatment plant don’t use shallow wells that would be recharged by seepage from river water for their drinking or gardening needs. I wonder when this adjustment was made and how wide spread it is.

    As I ride around it appears to me that as you like it irrigation is coming off the canals (some of have inlets which appear to be down stream from Boise).

    Does activated carbon take out all the PFAS? Any other issues with industrial pollutants?

    It is difficult for me to believe that the Farmer’s Union Canal is there to provide a significant source of ground water for Eagle. I’m trying to follow up on that.

    I’m up river of you, but, of course, Boise city water comes from deep enough wells and the river is not our source of drinking water. I love the Boise city water.

    I’ll continue following these related issues.

  25. The major source of air pollution in the Treasure Valley – transportation, cars, trucks, and buses.

    You’ll find me on my bike trying to climb high enough to get above it.

  26. a decade ago
    Sep 1, 2020, 2:31 pm

    A decade ago M3 proposed similar to irrigate with their “recycled” waste treatment. These same pollutant risks were brought to testimony but Eagle accepted it. There were those that also took a stand against the Dynamis project, also hazard concerns. Thankfully that didn’t go. So by some grace, major impacts haven’t hit our area yet but also as many voiced, growth brings downside impacts that were refused to be taken seriously or evenly weighted. And now the choice results are at hand. There is no getting around them ,only through them.
    With that in mind, it has to be taken to account in each of our own lives and uses how we can alter to lower the hazards impacting our planet. It can’t be said the take the science of cover-19, and act accordingly, then not apply that concept to other health issues. My understanding is that 80-90% of many medications aren’t absorbed by the body but eliminated. That’s a hazard that has to be taken for what it is and confronted with real study and planning for whatever possible remediation might be used. We won’t be rid of it, especially not by tomorrow and it’s here today.

  27. Kasey Krone
    Sep 1, 2020, 3:26 pm

    How is this legal? If the City of Boise is really planning to do this it seems like there should be legal ramifications.

  28. Richard Llewellyn
    Sep 1, 2020, 7:58 pm

    Hi Davis,
    Yes — the families I knew who lived along the river in Eagle Island in the 1970s and 80s had deep wells, as the ‘shallow’ aquifer had long since been contaminated by all the crap we’d been putting in the Boise River. Now, how quickly an aquifer is influenced by surface water, and what surface water, of course depends on the specific geology, but it has been common to have ‘shallow wells’ along the Farmers Union Canal ever since it was dug.

    I’m not sure what you mean by questioning whether Farmers Union Canal ‘is there to provide’ a significant source of municipal water to Eagle. The canal predated almost all of Eagle’s current population, and the City of Eagle, and Eagle Water, have multiple wells that are down- gradient of the canal. How quickly that influences the aquifer these wells tap into is an appropriate question — but in general, because the canal is on the high ground and above the wells, it is an issue of when and not if, depending on the permeability of various clay layers etc. I only took one hydrology class in grad school so I won’t pretend to know more than that.
    Of course, one could similarly ask — is the Santa Ana River there to provide a source of drinking water for Orange County? The answer is perhaps a matter of philosophy. However, PFAS contamination from municipal wastewater discharge upstream has made its way from that river into the aquifer Orange County taps for its municipal water. The same principle may well apply to Eagle municipal water.
    Activated carbon does a decent job removing many chemical contaminants — pharmaceuticals as well as PFAS, though how efficiently depends on the length of the carbon chain and head group for PFAS. I’m not expert on this, but activated carbon is used to remove PFAS from groundwater. However, it isn’t cheap — and it would be appropriate for the chemical manufacturers to pay for any needed removal, as is happening elsewhere via lawsuits.
    By the way, I’ve been told by an employee that some Suez water does come directly from the river, though upstream of the sewage treatment plants. I would think even the deeper wells are Boise River water — just older water that predates our contamination.
    I am not thrilled by Boise municipal water (Suez) which requires substantial chlorination. It tastes better than what I drank grad school in L.A., but I find it almost undrinkable compared to well water. However, I guess that depends partly on where you live in Boise — it certainly did in L.A.. Eagle Water clients get less chlorination and, they say, much better tasting water.

    Thanks for the interest and questions. BTW — I hope your neighborhood is closely following the fate of the Ada County Fairgrounds, for obvious reasons.

  29. dennis Dunn
    Sep 2, 2020, 2:16 pm

    Thank you Boise Guardian for posting and enlightening your readers with the comments and insights of Dr. Llewellyn. Many of us living in Boise are confused as to why our City Leadership continues to turn a blind eye to the cost of allowing development without the appropriate infrastructure. The current proposal of dumping partially treated water into the Farmers Union canal is more of the same. Poor processes result in poor outcomes.

  30. a decade ago
    Sep 3, 2020, 8:02 am

    Treasure Valley, as well as the state of Idaho, had the amazing opportunity of being able to embrace and grow along the concept of environmental carrying capacity. Even more necessary locally due to our high desert climate.
    But rapid growth approval was chosen, strongly impacting existing infrastructure. Now it appears the choice fall out is at hand, same as was resorted to in other high growth areas. High demand for limited water. Influx of fluent to water treatment facilities stretching the capabilities, capacities and costs resulting in non or minimally treated fluent, with ever increasing contaminants added to the mix.

  31. If anyone doubts the level of deceit Boise City is willing to stoop to in order to get what it wants in this case, please consider the disconnect between a recent statement from Steve Burgos, Boise Public Works Director, and language from the actual contract secretly negotiated between Boise and Farmers Union Ditch Co. in 2014.

    In an effort to placate the mayors of Eagle and Star, Mr. Burgos said, “Any recycled water project pursued by the city would include treating the water to the highest non-potable quality (Class A)”. Never mind for the moment that even Class A effluent is mandated to be accompanied by signage saying “Not For Human Contact.”

    Now contrast that calculated reassurance with the following provision from the contract: “City shall attempt to obtain a waiver of permit requirements or obtain approval of State and Federal agencies to allow discharges to the canal of water less than Class A quality pending approval of discharges of Class A water.”

    Simply put, if/when the City gains regulatory approval to dump Class A effluent into this 26-mile long canal serving hundreds if not thousands in three cities and two counties, it has every intention to violate the public trust even further by seeking approval to dump even dirtier and more dangerous effluent than Class A. A classic, behind-the-scenes bait & switch scheme that virtually no one who hasn’t read the contract knows about, but now you do!

    Here’s another tidbit from the contract that illuminates the duration of contractual obligation for both Farmers Union (and thus its shareholders) and Boise City: “After twenty-five (25) years, Farmers may terminate this Agreement by providing at least five (5) years written notice to the City of intent to terminate. The City may terminate this agreement if Farmers is determined to be in material breach of this Agreement; or without cause by providing at least one year written notice to Farmers of its intent to terminate.” Apparently, the lack of concern for its shareholders demonstrated by Farmers Union was exceeded only by its ineptness at negotiating.

    One more very-much-overlooked consideration is that the contract calls for effluent discharging of up to 16 million gallons a day of who-knows-what class of effluent into the Farmers Union Canal between April 1 and November 30 each year. The irrigation season for this canal typically runs from April 15 through October 15. That leaves two months where straight, undiluted effluent would be dumped into an otherwise dry canal for pets and wildlife to drink as it contaminated the soil and groundwater to an even greater degree than when it was mixed with canal water during the irrigation season.

    Folks, when you know the facts and the actual language of the secretly-negotiated contract that Boise is now seeking to implement, you should find it apparent that this is even more outrageous and just plain wrong than most people ever suspected. Whether you are a direct or indirect user of this canal or not, please join with those of us opposing the implementation of this scheme by voicing your concern to the mayor and council of Boise, as well as attending virtually or in person the public hearing currently scheduled for 6PM on Tuesday, Sept. 15 at Boise City Hall.

    The $50,000 per year “blood money” that Farmers Union Ditch Co. negotiated to receive from the City of Boise in exchange for allowing the City to contaminate the canal that Farmers manages is not remotely worth the risk it poses to the health and safety of a huge number of homeowners, farmers, organic gardeners, livestock-raisers, golf courses, schools, and others who indirectly consume agricultural products irrigated with this water. THIS MUST BE STOPPED!

  32. Well, there’s an easy way to solve the recharge problem. Just line the canal with concrete in the name of “water conservation”, and then there isn’t any worry about what seeps into the shallow wells, because nothing will seep.

    Richard, what return flows come back to the canal as part of drainage? Any? If not, you all have a pretty sweet deal. Additionally, are you guys on the sewer out there, or septic tanks?

    To be clear, I’m not excited about the idea of the wastewater being routed into the canal, but I’m also not particularly excited about it being routed into the river, either. These are the problems that come with services. Since everyone wants to flush their toilet, we need to deal. About the PFAS example (and pollution in general), control at the source is the solution. Who is discharging all these chemicals, and why aren’t we keeping them from polluting the commons?

  33. Richard Llewellyn
    Sep 10, 2020, 9:11 am

    Hi JoJo,
    Lining the canal with concrete would be extraordinarily expensive, and also dramatically reduce groundwater recharge for NW Boise, Eagle, and Star. For Boise, at least, that would contradict policy in their Comp Plan which aims to protect groundwater recharge.
    It is a substantial amount of water — Farmers Union Ditch Co. charges between 30% and 50% for loss — primarily to groundwater — which is not loss to the larger community but recharge.
    Yes, we can thank the engineers and massive labor, much from immigrants, for routing the Farmers Union Canal along the base of the foothills and above almost all agricultural runoff and most urban — and so yes, we have an excellent source of clean water and plan on keeping it that way. I’m sure we can do better in enforcing the no runoff rule. The New York canal also starts clean and in its upper stretches is a good source of groundwater recharge as well. Other canals (many people confuse the Farmers Union Canal in NW Boise/Eagle/Star with the Farmers Coop Canal near Parma) are so contaminated by runoff that mitigation is required even for industrial level agriculture.
    No, not great for the river, where is now. If it comes into our canal, however, it is 10x more concentrated, and has the potential to contaminate most of Eagle’s aquifer. Really the water renewal plan should be about cleaning up the water regardless of where it goes — but that’s not the focus.
    I think most people on wells are also on septic, which always seemed the appropriate situation to me as ones actions impact themselves. People who are in this situation tend to be much more thoughtful about what they flush or shower with.
    Currently, unlined landfills and municipal wastewater treatment plants are the point of discharge into the environment, and as such, they should be the immediate target for advanced cleanup. Unfortunately, however, these industries and their associations (associations largely relied on by Boise for its water renewal policy) are aggressively lobbying to prevent better cleanup mandates (
    Yes, PFAS should also no longer be manufactured, but the legacy will continue. Check out the amount of PFOS in groundwater around Gowen Field — and this just one of thousands of types of PFAS, and has been phased out for years:

  34. Oh, I know lining the canal doesn’t make sense, unless the irrigation deliveries dependent on the canal were not being met (remembering that Arrowrock and Anderson Ranch were built by the Bureau of Reclamation, and there are signed government contracts for delivery of water. Lucky Peak is Army Corps of Engineers, for flood control–any storage is incidental). And, in theory, I don’t have a problem with the groundwater recharage–I really don’t want to pollute even more places. I just want to point out that the recharge is happening as a second-order effect, and as such, shouldn’t be relied upon. I don’t begrudge anyone the recharge; I just don’t think it should be treated as a property right.

    Water, both supply and treatment, is going to be *the* issue before too long. Urbanization lowers the water demand as opposed to agriculture, but also pollutes in a different way. Lots of things are going to need to change going forward, whether it is landscaping choices, low-flush toilets, lining of canals, improved wastewater treatment/reuse, the list is huge! Hopefully, just once, we can actually get in front of a problem we see coming, instead of just kicking the can down the road–after all, if you don’t have time and money to do it right the first time, when will you have time and money to fix it?

    Very much appreciate the dialog!

  35. The concept that urbanizing land can lower the water demand compared to agriculture can be true in many cases, but I see this reasoning being applied to land areas in Boise’s southwest and southeast Area of Impact which tends to show “Dry Grazing” as the use when looking at the Ada County Assessor website – therefore water has not been used on some of these land parcels, so urbanizing would be increasing the water demand by adding more water users.

  36. As a method to reduce input into the sewer plant and taking care of your own why isn’t grey water considered. Retrofitting housing already built would be fairly costly but adding it to new construction would be a minimal cost.

  37. Richard Llewellyn
    Sep 14, 2020, 12:40 pm

    Thanks Jo Jo. Yes — I do hope we can get out in front of the issue — we agree there. I look at Idaho’s elevations and snowpack and think we are living on borrowed time.
    Ideally that is what Boise’s new Water Renewal Plan should do — really emphasize the value in clean water — but I’m not sure, with its emphasis on industrial economic stimulus, that it will have that effect (though keeping industrial discharge out of the municipal system would be excellent).
    It would be a difficult political sell now, but it really isn’t a good idea to keep pooping in the river, which really is what municipal indoor plumbing facilitates. Composting toilets are entirely workable, and avoid the problems of mixing industrial/medical/landfill contaminants with human waste and making hazardous biosolids and a huge infrastructure requirement. But … that won’t happen until/unless the real costs are no longer externalized. I may be fighting for the property rights / values / long term health of my property (and many of my neighbors), but by doing so, may also make apparent these externalized costs, and hopefully force us to deal with the problem sooner rather than later. Best — Richard

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