Pocatello’s engineering staff is finalizing long-term amendments to the city’s drinking water and wastewater facilities plans, as directed by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to evaluate impacts of the Northgate project.
Based on the scope of Northgate — a multi-use project under construction in northeast Pocatello planned to eventually include thousands of homes and several businesses — the DEQ made a special request that the city amend the two facility plans.
The city submitted draft amendments in June of 2018. Based on DEQ feedback, the city submitted its first revised reversion of the amendments in January. In March, DEQ authorized the city to allow construction of the first 3,000 Northgate dwellings, scheduled for completion in the original project timeline by the end of 2020.
DEQ also outlined four areas in which those facility plans required further improvement: The plans didn’t adequately evaluate an option for Pocatello and Chubbuck to cooperate on infrastructure, insufficient details on financing methods were offered, affects on current rate payers were not addressed and the city did not divulge how it would monitor wastewater collection and treatment capacity throughout the build-out.
Tom Hepworth, DEQ’s drinking water and wastewater manager, believes the city has ample capacity in its facilities to handle the growth, but the facility plan amendments were too vague in providing the evidence.
“We asked them to do a little more work and tell how those specific projects were going to fit into the broad master plan,” Hepworth said. “We said they needed to provide more information about how the development fits into the capacity context for both the cities of Pocatello and Chubbuck.”
Skyler Allen, the city’s senior utilities engineer, said the city hired an engineering consultant, Murraysmith, to assist in making the amendments. The latest set of revisions should be finalized within the next few weeks, Allen said.
One of the DEQ requests called for the city to more thoroughly evaluate the most direct route for a sewer line to Northgate, which would cross through Chubbuck and would require collaboration with Chubbuck and Bannock County officials to construct. Allen said the route through Chubbuck would also require less pumping.
However, Allen said the city found there was no significant cost difference between the route through Chubbuck and the preferred route the city originally identified, factoring in effects to existing infrastructure. Furthermore, he said the original route through Pocatello would provide service redundancy to the Highland area, in case of a disruption to the existing line serving Highland.
Allen said the city recently completed a rate study, finding its projected user rates wouldn’t have to increase to accommodate Northgate, as utility payments from new users moving into the development would be sufficient to offset the added costs.
The city recently commenced with a facility study of its wastewater treatment plant that should take between a year and a half and two years to complete. Allen said DEQ has agreed that study should address other specified planning shortcomings. Regarding the DEQ’s questions about how the major infrastructure will be funded, Allen said the city explained the developers will be responsible for covering the financial burdens associated with the project.
Finding a new source of water has presented another challenge. Allen said the city did some exploratory drilling in the hills near Northgate in search of a good well site. He said the city’s existing wells are located on the valley floor, and officials had hoped to find a new water source on higher ground to reduce pumping costs.
One of the test wells was dry. Allen said another test well struck geothermal water, which met quality standards but had a bad taste. They’re continuing to explore other areas for water, he said.
If all else fails, Allen said the culinary water could always be piped to Northgate from the valley floor, as it is in other neighborhoods.
Heading forward, Hepworth would like to see greater coordination on development between the cities of Pocatello and Chubbuck. He believes a cooperative master plan developed in partnership by staff from both communities would further identify “pinch points, answer questions and lay out a clear picture of bottom-line impacts to rate payers.”