Panhandle Health District 1

In 1970, the Idaho Legislature recognized the value a formal public health structure and created seven state health districts to ensure that all Idahoans have access to local public health services. One of the seven, Panhandle Health District 1, is controlled by a Board of Health appointed by county commissioners from Boundary, Bonner, Kootenai, Benewah and Shoshone counties.

Panhandle Health District 1 in Kootenai County supports its community health programs with funding from the state, counties it serves, fees, grants and contracts with federal and state agencies. It administers its Public Water System program under contract from the Department of Environmental Quality and the Greenferry Water District system falls under its purview.

In 1977, Panhandle Health District 1 adopted enhanced septic system rules for all development over the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie SVRP Aquifer. The Panhandle Health’s septic system mandate states:

“Installation of a septic system on the Rathdrum Aquifer requires a minimum parcel size of five acres, or must be a parcel created before December 20, 1977, or must be within the boundaries of a municipal sewage management area that has been approved by the Board of Health.”

Despite the latest hydrogeological data available from the Idaho Department of Water Resources, officials at Panhandle Health District 1 refuse to acknowledge that Greenferry Water District wells are completed within the Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer. Panhandle Health District project manager Erik Ketner, conversing about the proposed Bayshore Estates Subdivision, says this:

“Regardless, residents surrounding the proposed development are asserting that PHD [Panhandle Health District] is not appropriately protecting the RPA and should apply the 5 acre rule to the development. The consistent response has been that development is clearly outside of the RPA administrative boundary as identified in the definition section of IDAPA 41.01.01, and therefore, PHD cannot apply the rule.” (Panhandle Health District internal memo, September 10, 2020)

Ketner was referring to Idaho Code which reads:

IDAPA 41, Title 01, Chapter 01.110.03: “Rathdrum Prairie. That area of land situated in Kootenai County and more particularly defined by the USGS map describing the boundaries of the Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer identified and designated under the authority of Section 1424(e) of the Safe Drinking Water Act (PL 93-523) (Federal Register, Vol. 43, No. 28, Thursday February 9, 1978.”

This portion of Idaho Code refers to the EPA’s original designation of the SVRP Aquifer as a vulnerable resource worthy of special care. Published along with this 1978 notice was a USGS boundary map which used limited data of the day and which showed the SVRP Aquifer boundary as conveniently ending at the northern edge of the Spokane River. Beholden to the Department of Environmental Quality, Panhandle Health District 1 officials have so far refused to recognize IDWR’s updated aquifer boundary maps for regulatory purposes and therefore the agency has signed off on 57 septic tanks and 57 drain fields for the proposed the Bayshore Estates Subdivision.

The Panhandle Health District website says: “Panhandle Health District provides over 40 different public health programs to families, individuals and organizations in northern Idaho. From food and drinking water safety to health education and disease control, public health services are designed to ensure our community is a safe and healthy place to live, work and thrive.”

Greensferry Stakeholders want to know why these important goals apply to every water system over the SVRP Aquifer except for the Greenferry water wells!?