By Karen Filipovich
What happens to water resources when two of Montana’s premier river headwaters become a four-season resort hub and growing community? The members of the new Big Sky Sustainable Water Solutions Forum hope to answer this question by developing a unified approach to water management that becomes a model of how to maintain and restore ecologically healthy river systems while also identifying sustainable solutions for water supply and wastewater treatment.
On June 28, twenty-nine participants gathered to begin to develop a unified approach for addressing the future of water in the Big Sky area, which includes portions of the Gallatin and Madison watersheds. Stakeholders, identified through a community interview and assessment process, include community members, business people, producers, water experts, conservationists, local government officials, and state and local agency representatives.
This diverse group shares a common interest in finding a future that works for all water users. Initial reasons for working together ranged from the blunt assessment that, “we have to work together; it’s time” to statements of hope that Big Sky’s water resources management will become “a model for resort communities across the nation.” Participants noted the diverse perspectives and expertise, that the “right people are in the room” and many expressed excitement, hope, or optimism about finding creative solutions.
The collaborative group will focus on addressing three areas: ecological health of the river systems, water supply and availability, and wastewater treatment and disposal. In the next several months, stakeholders will build a common knowledge and identify priorities in these three areas. In the next phase, group members will develop and evaluate options to address the identified water resources priorities. By December 2017, the group will create a Big Sky area watershed management plan that will serve to unify community implementation.
The first public town hall meeting will be held in early December to share the information collected and hear more community perspectives. The work of the Big Sky Sustainable Water Solutions Forum will be posted on a special project page on the Gallatin River Task Force website.