When regulations are lax, s--- happens

  In the once-pristine valleys of eastern Idaho, ooze from malfunctioning septic systems in older subdivisions has seeped into groundwater used for drinking. Health officials in Island Park recently found fecal coliform contamination and shigella - a bacterium that causes severe diarrhea and cramping - at several homes and one resort.

At a subdivision near Salmon, Idaho, town officials imposed a building moratorium because of septic system problems. East of Salmon, another development is so saturated with septic slurry that it has caused some homes to slip downhill.

Although water throughout most of Idaho is of excellent quality, Greg Eager, a water expert with Idaho's Department of Environmental Quality, says the problems beginning to surface were caused by poor planning and lax regulation. "It's a time bomb waiting to happen," he says.

But Eager points out that homeowners often balk at paying the price for a sound septic system. "They'll have a huge house that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and when it comes down to it, buying carpet is more important than the septic system." Commissioners in both Lemhi and Fremont counties now encourage homeowners to fix septic problems by creating sewer districts that would cost each family $35 to $75 a month.

*Candace Burns

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