Monday, October 24, 2011



The Whole Story about
Terrace Lakes Resort’s Septic Problems

By Ilene Johnson

This is not a good thing to publicize but I feel it is necessary to inform the public what the issues are regarding the septic system problems at Terrace Lakes Resort in Garden Valley, because we may be shut down by Central District Health and the Department of Environmental Quality.

It is important to me that everyone knows the truth about this.

First, I want to tell a brief history about Terrace Lakes. It was started in 1965 on $10,000 of other people’s money. The idea was to have a place where average families could go in the mountains for a weekend get-away. The plans were to have a golf course, swimming pool, snack bar, campground, and a travel trailer park (this was before self-contained trailers); our first construction was two outhouses: a his and a hers.

The idea worked and it evolved to what it is today because of a lot of wonderful people who had faith in the idea, trusted us, and wanted to help so they would be able to use it. We sold memberships and our own stock, which was worthless at the time, to get started. When the pool was finished in 1967, we started charging our members $10 a month dues for the use of the pool and the grounds. Before the pool opened, we put in a sewer system that was an open lagoon that worked on oxygen. That is what was common at that time. The rules were changed in the late '70s, so we put in a 10,000 gallon septic tank and field drain. It was adequate until 2010.

In those days, there were not a lot of government agencies or regulations. We just tried to do everything right as long as it benefited everyone concerned. We always had a lot of knowledgeable professionals involved to advise us when we needed advice. They bought memberships or stock and really cared about the project. They came up and helped out on their days off, weekends mostly, just to be there.

I am writing this in order to get public support in Garden Valley and Boise County and to alert the public to what every property owner in our County has in store for them in the future, because they all have septic tanks. There are only two functioning sewer systems in the whole County: both are cities, Idaho City and Horseshoe Bend. If your septic system fails, you will be required to put in a system than will cost you $7,500 to $10,000. Septics have been gravity flow for hundreds of years. My common sense tells me that is especially good in the mountains. How have we ever survived without government regulations? Now, the new systems will all require electricity and many of them will have to be pumped uphill. Therefore, if the power goes out, they will not work.

There are no lots in Boise County that can be sold or built on without one of these expensive systems. The new systems will have to be inspected every year for a hefty fee or a lien will be put on your property.

This is, I am told, because of the new regulations that no one knows about because they were never publicized to the general public. I do not know if this is just in Boise County, all over the state or nationwide. Regardless, I think we all need to pay attention. Money is tight. We have been told, you either do as they say or close your place down or get a port-a-potty. Maybe it is time to repeal another law.

Our system has been in use since 1967; as all septics, it has always been gravity flow. Our field drain was shut down a few years ago, so a seepage pit was put in. The seepage pit had some water surfacing so it was declared failed. As everyone in Boise County knows, we had a really wet spring this year and several septic systems had some major problems. Our system has excess water running into it and we cannot figure out where it is coming from.

I need to back up. In 2009, we were told we had to put in a new sewer system because it is in violation to have anything commercial on the same system that has dwellings. I have not seen documentation of this. We were told this had to be done or we would be shut down. We were threatened several times about being shut down or our alternative was to put in two new sewer systems, one for commercial and one for the dwellings.

At a meeting at DEQ, we were told the estimated cost would be approximately $600,000. The clubhouse, pool and nine overnight rental rooms are on our system. There are forty dwellings on the system, ten of which are full time residents: these include the properties near the creek and the dwellings around the first two holes of the golf course. We were told we had to pursue getting a new system or else be shut down again. So we hired an engineer, bought permits for test holes, and put in one-hundred test holes all over the golf course, on the hillside and everywhere it was possible. This was in October, 2009.

With the new regulations, none of the test holes were approved. The only area that was qualified is two ridges away from the tanks, and we have to pump everything into a huge, pressurized drip system covering several acres of choice land. None of this system will work without electricity. This last year, we were told we might get by with one system. We have already spent close to $70,000 on engineering, test holes etc., and the bid we got plus what we have already spent came to $400,000. We have tried to explain we cannot afford to put in a sewer system but they could care less.

We have been trying to do everything we can to get the money to solve our problem, but as everyone knows, businesses cannot borrow money. In the last year, we have had more threats about closing us down, revoking our licenses for the pool and restaurant, and revoking our liquor license. We are going into winter, we are a seasonal business, and winter is what I call our starvation period.

The week before Labor Day Weekend, we were told that we were being given four days notice--Central District Health was going to cap off our septic tank and we had to close our doors or pump and haul everything. The timing was terrible. We had one of our three busiest holiday weekends coming up, a wedding booked, piles of people signed up to golf, and the septic tank was capped off. To keep from closing, we had Goff Plumbing come up and pump our septic. Within a week it cost us $6,000. That alone could break us. So we bought a truck, on time, and are hauling it ourselves, to Southfork Landing in Garden Valley. We have been doing this for almost two months. If we could not haul there, we would have to haul to Boise. It is still costing us close to $10,000 a month.

I have to write this because it is my last chance to explain our possible future. We may be forced to close down and if we do, it could bankrupt us, because we might never be able to recover. At present we have very good credit, but that can change quickly because of the added costs and we have no excess money. That is why I want the public to know before it happens. We are really fearful. One thing about this, I know our property owners and members will be helpful and supportive.

I am having a hard time with this because of the current economy and our employees that could be out of work for the winter.

Most resorts are built for the wealthy and they have gone broke; ours is for the average Joe and there are a lot more average Joes around than wealthy--that is why we have lasted this long.

We have worked hard to survive for the last forty-seven years, because Terrace Lakes Resort is a place for people more than profit. We believe in service and are open 7 days a week, year-round. Few resorts are. Because of this, we are the largest private employer in Boise County. We pay more taxes, including the dwellings, than anyone in Boise County. We have the only golf course, geo-thermal pool and tennis courts in Boise County. We have not made a profit since 1980, and that was from a timber sale. Thousands of people visit us every year, besides our 300 members and/or 330 property owners; some are both and some are not. Our closing would have a negative effect on the economy in Crouch and Garden Valley. Real Estate prices and sales are poor at present in our Valley, and they could get worse if we are not open.

I think DEQ and Central District Health must think we have deep pockets, because Terrace Lakes’ golf course is one of the most beautiful in the state.

If I had known there was more money in sewage than recreation, I would have gone into the sewage business.

Ilene Johnson,
Majority Stockholder and Secretary/Treasurer
Terrace Lakes Recreation Ranch, Inc., dba Terrace Lakes Resort
Garden Valley, Idaho
Tuesday through Friday: 208-377-2121, Boise Office
Saturday, Sunday & Monday: 208-462-3250 , Terrace Lakes Office


  1. Sad to think, in these economic times, that our State Government would not be working with businesses to do everything possible to keep jobs. Boise Co./Garden Valley needs this resort, the jobs, the infusion of out-of-area dollars, etc. Where are our local officials on this? This is a perfect opportunity for our county commissioners and state representatives to show their leadership..... or lack of leadership!


  2. I am wondering why hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent by Terrace Lakes on their North Ridge subdivision adjacent to the golf course while their sewer system has gone wanting. Hard to excuse poor management and dumb mistakes.

  3. When you create an entity such as Terrace Lakes, and you have dozens of homes hooked to a septic system that flows into a collective area, you would eventually end up with this problem. Hindsight is always 20/20, but this problem was festered out of shear ignorance, because when Eileen started this endeavor, she was unknowingly in the sewer business, and failed at it miserably. I agree with the above comment, money was directed elsewhere, and now the current homeowners will suffer.

  4. how many more people are going to lose their homes up there?