1. WHO ARE ALBANY COUNTY CLEAN WATER ADVOCATES (ACCWA)?
Albany County Clean Water Advocates was founded in 2007 as “Citizens for Clean Water”. It is a broad-based, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the high quality and abundant supply of water provided to our community by the Casper Aquifer, now and for generations to come.
ACCWA welcomes anyone interested in the Laramie-area groundwater supply. Meeting agendas and related information are posted on this website and on our Facebook page.
2. HOW DOES ACCWA PROMOTE ITS MISSION?
ACCWA strives to meet its mission of protecting the water supply by raising awareness among decision makers and the general public about aquifer protection issues, testifying in favor of aquifer protection at government meetings, advocating for improvements to regulations and zoning that protect our water supply, providing educational resources, and organizing field trips to provide hands-on understanding of our aquifer.
3. WHAT IS THE CASPER AQUIFER?
The Casper Aquifer is the water-bearing portion of the Casper Formation, a stack of sandstone and limestone layers occurring along the margins and in the subsurface of the Laramie Basin. Water from the aquifer discharges naturally in springs and is extracted by hundreds of public and private wells. It is the primary source of drinking water for Laramie and the surrounding area.
4. WHERE IS THE CASPER AQUIFER?
The aquifer extends from 50 miles north of Laramie to south of the Colorado border. In the vicinity of Laramie, the Casper Aquifer is present at the surface east of town and beneath other formations under and west of town. [map link]
5. WHO DRINKS WATER FROM THE CASPER AQUIFER?
The Casper Aquifer provides 60% of the drinking water for the 32,000 residents of Laramie in normal years, and up to 100% in drought years. (Treated water from the Laramie River provides the remaining portion of the city supply.) The aquifer is the sole source of drinking water for rural residents east of Laramie who depend on wells. Together, that’s about 86% of the entire population of Albany County. [map link]
6. WHAT IS THE "CASPER AQUIFER PROTECTION AREA"?
The City of Laramie and Albany County have designated a portion of the aquifer east of Laramie as the Casper Aquifer Protection Area (CAPA). It extends in a three to four mile-wide band along the west flank of the Laramie Range, from the approximate line of 45th Street / Vista Drive to the top of the range, and extends several miles north and south of town. [map]
This is the area in which rainfall, snowmelt, streamflow, and infiltration of surface contaminants enters the aquifer. Further west, the aquifer is covered with lower-permeability layers that help to keep contamination out.
The special protection area is only 1.6% of Albany County, yet serves 86% of the county population. ACCWA feels that special regulations in this special area are fully appropriate.
7. WHAT IS THE AQUIFER "RECHARGE AREA"?
“Recharge” means the infiltration into the aquifer of rainfall, snowmelt, streamflow, and any other water present at the surface, then filling the aquifer. The water in the aquifer then flows into wells and is delivered to our homes and businesses.
The aquifer “recharge” area is basically the same as the aquifer “protection” area, because it is the recharge process that needs to be protected. READ MORE
Complicating the issue is anti-science language that exists in the County. This impacts the western boundary since certain scientific evidence that relates to discussions about the position of the western boundary of the Casper Aquifer Protection Area (CAPA) is forbidden. (Albany County Zoning Resolution, Chapter 3, Section 3, Subsection D(3)).
8. WHO OWNS THE AQUIFER PROTECTION AREA?
The majority of the protection area is owned by two entities – Warren Livestock (and subsidiaries) – 41%, and Mountain Cement – 15%. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the University of Wyoming, and the State of Wyoming own isolated tracts across the recharge area – total 23%, and the remaining portions, closest to the city, are divided among many small land owners [link to map] This patch work of land owners makes aquifer management and land acquisition complicated.
A significant piece of the Warren Livestock land has recently been offered for sale to the County. This purchase is being pursued under the Pilot Hill Project.
9. WHO OWNS THE WATER?
While the land ownership is a mix of public and private, the Wyoming Constitution establishes the State (public) as the owner of all waters in Wyoming. Use of that water is licensed to individuals, businesses, towns, etc. for specific purposes through the State Engineer’s Office. Similarly, state statute prohibits “the discharge of any pollution or waste into the waters of the state” without a permit. ACCWA feels that as long as folks can exercise their property rights without compromising the public water supply, they are free and welcome to do so. Issues arise when property owners dispose of wastewater or release other contaminants into the public water supply.
10. WHO HAS AUTHORITY TO REGULATE FOR AQUIFER PROTECTION?
The entire aquifer recharge area lies within Albany County. The vast majority (over 90%) is under the land use authority of the Albany County Commission, with less than 10% under the jurisdiction of the City of Laramie. The elected body primarily responsible for protection of the groundwater supply for nearly all county residents is the Albany County Commission.
Prior to 2018, state statute also gave the City limited review authority over new subdivisions in a one-mile band around the city limits (the so-called "doughnut") to provide orderly accommodation of city growth. Differing views on how land use should be regulated adjacent to cities and towns, including the specific issue of aquifer protection for Laramie, led to reduction of city participation in the doughnut to an advisory role only.
11. WHAT ARE THE RISKS TO THE QUALITY OF OUR WATER SUPPLY?
The CAPP includes discussion and a local inventory [link] of potential contaminants of the Casper Aquifer, including businesses potentially using and storing hazardous materials, individual septic systems, and activity in the I-80 corridor.
Contamination of our drinking water can come from pesticides, herbicides, road/parking runoff, animal waste, fertilizers, hazardous chemicals used/stored by homes and businesses, and "urban runoff". Transportation of hazardous materials down I-80 are of concern because Telephone Canyon cuts completely through the Casper Aquifer.READ MORE
In addition to septic system effluent - which contains anything poured down the drain in the home and anything excreted by humans, including pharmaceuticals - contamination of our drinking water can come from pesticides, herbicides, road/parking runoff, animal waste, fertilizers, and hazardous chemicals used/stored by homes and businesses. In the recharge area infiltration into the aquifer occurs rapidly as snow melt and runoff infiltrates into porous sandstones and fractures that occur in drainages on the land surface. In other words, everything "goes down the drain".
Standard estimates indicate that more then 350 septic systems are located on the East Grand Avenue portion of the aquifer and Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) standards indicate that around 300 gallons per day of water is released by a septic system ( more than 100,000 gallons per day total). Over time the water leaving the septic systems/leach fields reaches the underlying groundwater in the aquifer. DEQ regulations (in Wyoming and many other states) and the scientific literature estimate the nitrate concentration leaving the leach field is generally in the 40 to 50 milligrams per liter (mg/l) range. The EPA Drinking Water Standard for nitrates is 10 mg/l.
12. WHAT IS THE POTENTIAL FOR CONTAMINATION FROM I-80?
There are many chemicals and fuel products transported along I-80, which traverses 7 miles of the aquifer recharge area from the east side of Laramie to the Lincoln Monument. The Wyoming Department of Transportation has estimated that 25% of the semi-tractors and trailers haul hazardous materials. A spill large enough to escape containment or quick cleanup would infiltrate into the aquifer, and infiltration of storm water run-off carries oil, grease, metal particles from tires and brake pads, road salt, and other automotive fluids into the aquifer.
A comprehensive evaluation of I-80 risks was completed in 2011. That study concluded accident prevention measures and emergency response were the best management strategies. Encouragingly, compilation of historical records found only one large spill – 200 gallons of diesel – since 1948. The study recommendations regarding improved signage and pavement surface modification have been implemented. For several years, the County pursued State funding for a channel lining project, but those applications were declined.READ MORE
The Albany County Specific Purpose Tax passed in 2010 allocated “$250,000 for remediation of accident caused pollutants or other potential contaminant sources within the Telephone Canyon portion of I-80 as identified by the Telephone Canyon Aquifer Protection Study”. A small portion of these funds was used for the 2011 study. Otherwise, those funds remain available.
The chances of an aquifer-contaminating spill along I-80, although judged to be small, deserve attention. However, the potentially dramatic impacts of an I-80 spill should be compared with the individually much smaller, but cumulative, day-to-day risks from routine activities across the aquifer, including the incrementally increased contaminant loading from residential and commercial development.
13. HAS THE AQUIFER BEEN CONTAMINATED?
The 2013 East Laramie Waste Water Feasibility Study evaluated 115 private wells and found that "approximately 65% of the East Grand area wells that were sampled show nitrate contamination, with 4% of the wells exceeding the EPA Drinking Water Standard for nitrates which is 10 mg/l."
Background nitrate concentrations fall between 0 and 2 mg/l. Recent monitor well data on the east side of Laramie encountered concentrations as high as 8.7 mg/l, but there are very few wells specifically designed to monitor aquifer contamination.READ MORE
Regular sampling of the Laramie municipal supply wells has shown little indication of contamination, although an increasing trend in nitrates was suggested in the 2013 study and comprehensive sampling for the full suite of possible contaminants is quite rare.
ACCWA has concluded that significant aquifer contamination is largely confined to local areas of septic system discharge, but does not accept "barely legal" as an acceptable drinking water quality goal. We recognize the great value of the present, generally high quality of the Casper Aquifer for all community members, and seek to maintain that quality through appropriate preventative management strategies.
14. WHAT ARE THE AQUIFER PROTECTION OPTIONS?
Comprehensive aquifer protection requires a combination of non-regulatory and regulatory management strategies, including education, data collection, best management practices for hazardous and waste materials, zoning and land-use regulation, and land acquisition. Aquifer protection is the responsibility of all the individuals who live and do business on the aquifer, and of the many agencies involved in land-use regulation, highway management and emergency response.
The Casper Aquifer Protection Plan provides a thorough discussion [link].
15. WHY CAN'T WE JUST PRESERVE THE AQUIFER PROTECTION AREA AS OPEN SPACE?
Preservation of recharge areas as undeveloped open space is an effective aquifer protection strategy, and can integrate very well with community benefits for recreation, preservation of viewsheds, etc. Direct preservation can occur through property purchase, donation, conservation easements, land exchange, transfer of development rights, and memorandum of agreement or understanding which prohibits certain activities. [link to CAPP] READ MORE
** A suggested management strategy for local government to protect the water supply is acquiring land that is within the Casper Aquifer Protection Area. This strategy would provide protection from land uses that may adversely affect the groundwater. There are five ways recommended to acquire property:
**There have been several efforts in the past 20 years to acquire this land area.
**The offer to the City of Laramie includes 127 acres of land directly north of Snowy Range Academy on Boulder Drive. The purchase price is the completion of a paved road connecting Boulder Drive east of Grand Avenue to 45th Street within Indian Hills Subdivision; and the completion of a public parking area within or adjacent to the property acquired by the county allowing access by the public to the open recreation area.
**Past attempts to acquire the land included a joint effort by the City and Albany County in the 2009 Legislative Session to receive a loan from the State for the purchase of the recharge area. An offer by Warren Livestock to sell a portion of the land to the City of Laramie prompted this effort. While the city was considering options to pay for this purchase a group of land owners from Sherman subdivision east of Laramie signed petitions to stop this willing-buyer/willing-seller transaction on the grounds that the City was trying to surround them and force annexation.
The current Specific Purpose Tax was passed in 2010. A group of citizens called Albany County Citizens for Clean Water, Open Space, and Recreation utilized the models of successful projects in Ft. Collins, Colorado and Cheyenne, Wyoming, to propose a portion of the tax funds be used for buying up the recharge area. Initially the county endorsed $4 million for aquifer/open space purchase with the city supporting an additional $1 million. At the last minute the east Laramie property owners again opposed to public land purchase and regulations convinced the county to reduce their portion of the tax to $250,000 for remediation of possible accident-caused pollutants within the Telephone Canyon section of I-80. The City portion of $1 million is dedicated to planning, design, construction of improvements and maintenance for protection of the well head properties in Zone I and vulnerable features in Zone II.
In 2011, the City Council, County Commission, local business leaders, and hydrology experts joined forces to pursue a state appropriation to purchase a large portion of the aquifer recharge area that had been offered for sale. That effort was unsuccessful. One of the questions asked in the Senate hearing was, "before we provide state funds, what have you done to help yourselves through the zoning authority we have given you?"
16. WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATUS OF THE 2017 PILOT HILL PURCHASE OFFER?
On September 6, 2017, Albany County signed a purchase option with Warren Livestock Company for a large piece of the aquifer area, immediately east of Laramie east of Laramie (approximately 13% of the recharge area). The offer was 5,500 acres for $14 million. (An early 2018 appraisal reduced the price to $10 million, or $1,800 per acre.) The land area runs from Laramie’s east side to Medicine Bow National Forest, linking existing state and federal parcels and allowing open public access and recreation from Laramie to the national forest and all the way to Curt Gowdy State Park. [link to the 2017 Purchase and Land Sale Agreement]
Go to pilothill.org for additional information, donation procedures, and volunteer opportunities. ACCWA fully supports the objectives of the Pilot Hill purchase. (Mar. 2019).
17. WHAT IS THE CASPER AQUIFER PROTECTION PLAN?
The Casper Aquifer Protection Plan (CAPP) provides a comprehensive plan for aquifer protection for the City of Laramie and Albany County, Wyoming. The Plan provides historical information, describes the geology of the area, delineates the protection area, and includes a Contaminant Source Inventory that identifies potential sources of water contamination. Also, the Plan discusses the development and implementation of a Contaminant Management Plan.
The original Casper Aquifer Protection Plan was initiated in 1997. Citizens were concerned at the time with the wellhead protection plan developed in 1993 through an EPA grant for the City's municipal wellheads at Turner, Pope and Soldier Springs. As a result of citizens’ concerns that the plan was too restricted around wellheads, the Laramie City Council and Albany County Commissioners instructed the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) to develop an aquifer protection program including larger portions of the aquifer resource area beyond just the wellheads. The original plan was a joint City/County effort completed by a small army of volunteers from the community working with the EAC. The Casper Aquifer Protection Plan was approved by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality in 2002. The plan was updated in 2004 in response to Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) review comments, then again for the City in 2008 by Whitman Hydro Planning Associates.
This 2008 CAPP identified specific locations for monitor wells and recommended that the City of Laramie establish a routine groundwater monitoring program. For economic reasons this has been implemented slowly. The City and County and Wyoming Department of Transportation have supported implementation of monitor wells in the mouth of I-80 Telephone Canyon and right-of-way coming into Laramie. Three permanent testing wells are also located in areas which monitor groundwater flows towards the municipal well fields east of Laramie.
18. WHY ARE THERE TWO CASPER AQUIFER PROTECTION PLANS - CITY AND COUNTY?
The original Casper Aquifer Protection Plan was developed in 1999 – 2002 as an outgrowth of an earlier “Wellhead Protection Plan” for the City of Laramie, as the concerns with water quality were extended to the entire aquifer and all aquifer users. It was a joint County/City document and its conclusions were reflected in companion regulations by the two governments.
In 2007, a professional update of the CAPP was commissioned. The City endorsed the update in 2008, but County officials rejected several of the recommendations presented as being too restrictive or expensive and proceeded to develop their own update through the County Planning & Zoning Commission. This process continued through 2011, when the County Commission adopted the separate County plan currently in effect.
The County Planning & Zoning Commission also developed draft regulations to accompany the Aquifer Protection Plan, but these were rejected by the Commission in favor of a “substitute” regulation which remains in effect with minor amendments. Objections compiled by the City staff [link] were ignored. READ MORE
Due to continuing community concern regarding negative impact to the Casper Aquifer Recharge Area, the Casper Aquifer Protection Plan (CAPP) was updated in 2008. The 2008 CAPP began as a joint project between the City of Laramie and Albany County. Draft recommendations by the consultant to consider bringing sewer lines into the unincorporated subdivisions along East Grand Avenue to eliminate the possibility of negative impacts of individual septic systems on groundwater quality generated alarm from some subdivision residents. The CAPP was revised in response to these and other public comments. The 2008 CAPP was followed by implementing regulation: Section 15.08.040A of the Laramie Unified Development Code. The County rejected this version of the revised CAPP and assigned the county Planning and Zoning Commission to develop another update instead. The process went on for several years. The result was approved by the County Commission in 2011.
19. WHY ARE THE AQUIFER PROTECTION AREA BOUNDARIES DIFFERENT BETWEEN THE CITY AND COUNTY PLANS?
The technical review committee working on the original Casper Aquifer Protection Plan (CAPP) in 1999 decided that the aquifer was vulnerable to contamination from surface sources if there is less than 75 feet of undisturbed overlying Satanka Shale. The Casper Aquifer Protection Area was drawn to define this area, using data available at the time. Since then, new mapping and other data show that the western boundary of the CAPA is incorrectly placed in several instances. The City has adjusted its version of the western boundary to reflect these facts (and to establish an administrative boundary that follows survey lines). [link] In the County version of the CAPP the written criteria for the western boundary now contradicts the accompanying map. This creates the opportunity for expensive legal challenges if development is approved in an area of error.
20. DO WE NEED STRONGER AQUIFER PROTECTION?
Since 2001 both the city and county have adopted Casper Aquifer Protection Plans (CAPPs) and associated regulations which provide both general guidance and limited legal protection for our community water supply. These are some of the strongest aquifer protection policies in the state. However, these regulations still allow permitting authorities too much latitude. In addition to resisting any reduction in aquifer protection, ACCWA supports the following improvements:
**ACCWA strongly supports a unified approach to aquifer protection, recognizing that groundwater flow knows no boundaries, that this vital community resource requires community management, and that all citizens of Albany County deserve County and City attention. There should be one, common aquifer protection plan and consistent regulations across both the city and the surrounding county portions of the aquifer, as there was when the CAPP was first established.
**ACCWA accepts the compromise that identified the western boundary of the aquifer protection zone as the point at which 75 feet of undisturbed Satanka Shale is present. But mapping of that criterion must be based on the best available science, not the policy preferences of regulators. The county mapping is known to be in error and should be corrected. [link]
**ACCWA strongly opposes the censorship of valid scientific data that is presently included in county regulations. [link]
**ACCWA believes the CAPP should be routinely updated to reflect current science, contaminant source inventories, and educational opportunities, and to promote both voluntary and regulatory approaches to aquifer protection.
**ACCWA promotes the implementation of minimum lot sizes and limitations on the types of use on the aquifer, and opposes general and specific zoning changes that encourage additional development on the aquifer.
21. WHAT IS ACCWA'S POSITION ON FUTURE DEVELOPMENT?
The connection between development and the potential for aquifer contamination is obvious and inescapable. If our community had known 50 years ago what we know now, we would simply have purchased the entire aquifer recharge area and left it as undeveloped open space.
However, ACCWA does not seek to reverse existing development on the aquifer. The ACCWA position is to guide future community development to the ample areas available outside the aquifer protection area through appropriate zoning and future infrastructure construction. Within the protection area, there should be an emphasis on best management practices for existing development, future residential development should be constrained to low densities, and commercial use should be carefully reviewed for potential impacts.
22. ARE THERE OTHER SOURCES OF GROUNDWATER CONTAMINATION IN LARAMIE?
Yes - virtually any surface development has some potential for groundwater contamination simply because modern lifestyles are supported by a host of chemicals that may escape our control and soak into the ground. Infiltration of contaminants into an aquifer being tapped for drinking water is of primary concern because that is the source of our drinking water. Fortunately, most of the development in the Laramie area does not occur over the Casper aquifer and therefore poses less of a threat to it.
Local examples of known groundwater contamination include:
- West Laramie. The 1960s annexation of West Laramie into the City due to nitrate contamination of its drinking water wells.
- The Laramie Tie Treatment Plan, Fort Sanders Road. The contamination of the Laramie River due to chemicals in treatment of railroad ties. The Laramie Tie Treatment Plan is a U.S. EPA “Superfund” site that is currently under containment and remediation. The Laramie River itself has been moved three times to avoid contamination from this site.
- The Third Street PCE Plume Orphan Site. The ongoing remediation is to remove dangerous vapors by vacuuming them from the soil. The site was designated by the Wyoming DEQ in 1998.
- 5th Street PCE Plume. The DEQ is investigating the recently-identified PCE plume along 5th Street.
- WR Metals Plant on Fort Sanders Road. There are extreme arsenic concentrations underground at the old WR Metals Plant.
- Remaining groundwater contamination beneath the old Midwest/Standard Oil Refinery & Laramie Yttrium Plant on N. Cedar St. Since the 1920s various companies operating at this location leaked contaminants into the soil and Laramie River. Most of the upper soil area at the site was cleaned up in 2016 and 2017 under management of the Laramie River Conservation District.
READ MOREACCWA understands that there is no quick fix when water contamination occurs Clean up of water contamination is based on the priority level of the site in the state listing at DEQ, potential exposure to humans and available clean up funds. Because water contamination is an ongoing issue in many Wyoming cities (Pinedale, Casper, Cheyenne, Pavilion, etc.) there exists competition for funding and remediation action. The state and federal responses to these incidents have been marked by delays and high costs. They are continuing problems. Citizens have been left to fend for themselves for long periods of time while state and federal agencies and private corporations conduct tests and studies to determine who will accept responsibility and pay for the remediation.
23. WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE 2017 SUGGESTION OF BUILDING A NEW CAR DEALERSHIP ON EAST GRAND?
The City of Laramie Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) ultimately decided that they would not “relax” the Casper Aquifer Protection Plan (Table 15.08.040.A Prohibited Activities).
The proposal to relax Prohibited Uses was based on a memo by a city consultant and supported by City Planning staff. The memo and subsequent staff proposal would have allowed application to develop over the Aquifer and allow for “Project Specific Report Eligibility.”
If this recommendation had been adopted, developers could have bypassed the prohibited activities to allow use and storage of hazardous materials over the aquifer. The final decision means that new businesses that use or store hazardous wastes will not be allowed to operate over the aquifer.
This decision was recommended by the Environmental Advisory Committee, urged by ACCWA and hundreds of citizens in petitions, letters to the editor, and attendance at scheduled meetings and was finally made by the City P&Z.