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Federal government sues Driggs, ID for dumping toxic waste water into healthy stream 

Driggs, ID side of the Teton Range.
A view of the Teton Range near Driggs, ID.

An Idaho town on the west side of the Tetons is being sued by the federal government for dumping toxic waste water into a nearby stream.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed the lawsuit Monday, Oct. 24, claiming that the city of Driggs violated the Clean Water Act by dumping sewage water into Woods Creek, which is a tributary of the Snake and Columbia Rivers, Teton River and Henry’s Fork.

The dumped water had high levels of e. Coli and ammonia, which are linked to killing aquatic life and causing intestinal and brain damage in humans.

The suit claimed that since 2015 the illegal dumping happened more than 2,600 times. If the lawsuit is successful, Driggs will be on the hook for more than $160 million in fines.

This is not the first time the city has been cited for unsafe water standards. According to the AP, four years ago the Environmental Protection Agency mandated that Driggs update its wastewater treatment facility, which has been out of compliance for years, causing the contaminated water dumping. But, the city never followed through with the updated facility.

The city said the current lawsuit is a “procedural step” for reaching a settlement with the federal government.

“Although it seems scary to be sued by the Department of Justice, it’s actually an opportunity to receive support and resources,” said Driggs Mayor August Christensen in a written statement.

The DOJ, however, is asking in its lawsuit for the city to be fined and ordered to comply with federal pollution rules, including the Clean Water Act.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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