Homes in an area south of Lake Lowell use varying amounts of limited irrigation water for their lawns and fields. Canyon County Commissioners are considering a development in this area where multiple homeowners’ wells have experienced dry spells.
The developer of a proposed multihome project south of Lake Lowell offered an amended plan to ease worries about water use, but area residents still expressed concerns about availability during a recent meeting.
Last week, the commissioners present — Keri Smith and Pam White — felt the applicant and staff had gathered enough information to approve the conditional rezone and development agreement of the 122-acre parcel off of Sky Ranch Road from “agricultural” to “conditional-rezone-rural-residential.” Commissioner Leslie Van Beek was not present at the hearing.
The move represents a major step in a nearly two-year effort by developer Taylor Jene Homes to secure permission to proceed with the 33-lot subdivision.
As part of the approval, the commissioners put a number of conditions on the project that the developer must adhere to, including asking the developer to install a community well, or public water system, instead of individual wells for each home, and nixing one community lot and shrinking another.
“If this is approved, it’s making a difference because personally, I see the benefits of giving them these standards that need to be met” due to citizen concerns about the health of the aquifer in the area, White said.
“I am finding after my denial last time that my concerns have been addressed,” she said.
Smith said ahead of the decision that the case had been difficult, in spite of the experience she brings having worked for the Idaho Department of Water Resources, as a planner, and as a commissioner.
“There is absolutely concerns for water … however, the fact that we have is that those water concerns are from well construction standards,” Smith said, referencing evidence and reports indicating that homeowners who have experienced well failures are likely suffering from poor well installation rather than a depleted aquifer.
But residents of the area testified at Wednesday’s hearing that well failures are still leading to great hardship, over a year and a half after the issue was first brought before the board. Kim Yanecko, one of the opposition’s leaders, testified that during the summer, she and other residents of her subdivision, which uses a shared community well, decided to limit water use. At one point, no water came out Yanecko’s tap.
“We live in million dollar homes,” she said. “You can’t expect people to (live) without water.”
Claudia Haynes, a resident of a nearby subdivision, estimated that over $500,000 has been spent by homeowners in her subdivision on well issues. Haynes, who has lived in her home for more than 20 years, said she and her husband will have to move rather than pay over $85,000 to have a new well drilled to an ongoing lack of water. They have already spent $30,000.
“To have no water in your house … you know what that means?” Haynes said.
Applicant representatives reiterated on Wednesday that their plan to avoid water issues besetting other residents of the area is to drill wells at least 150 feet deeper than where water is first encountered. It was not immediately clear how that figure may change with the condition to install a community well.
Those in opposition questioned both the 150-foot-deeper plan, and the community well condition. Haynes said she was told by an Idaho Department of Water Resources hydrologist that the level of the aquifer fluctuates more than 150 feet in the summer. And multiple people said that the data on water levels in the aquifer are incomplete without collecting some data during the summer, when demand is greatest.
Casey Ames, owner of Taylor Jene Homes, said multiple times during Wednesday’s hearing that he was willing to do what it takes to get the project moving forward. He said he and his team had provided ample evidence from experts that water levels in the aquifer are sound.
“They’ve all said the same thing … that there’s consistent water; it’s either stable or growing,” Ames said. “So I do understand boots on the ground. I understand that people are having concerns out there. I also understand that there’s a lot of well construction problems out there that contractors didn’t do correctly. But at the end of the day, the data supports the data.”
One of the main reasons for requiring a community well is that the oversight of it would go to the Idaho Department of Water Resources, taking the burden off of county development services staff, Smith said.
If the applicant finds that doing a community well is not feasible, they have the right to appeal that condition, Smith said. But Ames said the cost of installing a community well would be less compared with giving each home its own well; the company just has not applied for that type of well because it expected to move forward with individual wells, he said.
Other conditions that the commissioners decided to add on were to adjust the sizes of the two community lots in the development, prohibiting the building of secondary dwelling units or golf courses, and not allowing additional structures on sloped areas.
County staff will be working to update its findings and conclusions for the project, and the applicant will be working on updating its proposed plat map based on the conditions. The hearing for the preliminary plat has been continued to Jan. 3 at 9:30 a.m.
Those opposed to the project can file a request for reconsideration specifying deficiencies in the decision within 14 days of the board’s final written decision on the project, Smith said. The board would have 60 days to respond to such a request, and if they disagreed, those in opposition could get a lawyer and request review through the judicial system, she said.