Voice of the River

Wastewater Treatment and Disposal May Be the Key to Sustainable Development in Big Sky

Big Sky Sustainable Water Solutions Forum stakeholders shared information on wastewater treatment and disposal in the Big Sky area on November 3rd, 2016.

Wastewater treatment and disposal will play a critical role as Big Sky develops. Kevin Germain, Lone Mountain Land Company’s Vice President of Planning and Development, tied infrastructure to building community, “to solve affordable housing needs, we need to solve water and wastewater needs”.

No single entity manages wastewater treatment in Big Sky. Wastewater treatment and disposal in the Big Sky area can be broadly divided into four areas: Big Sky Water and Sewer District, Yellowstone Mountain Club, Moonlight Basin, and Gallatin Canyon. The first three have centralized systems, while the fourth includes a combination of individual septic systems and a variety of small treatment and disposal systems.

Representatives from the various entities managing wastewater in Big Sky explained existing wastewater treatment and disposal infrastructure, current wastewater capacity, and plans for expanding capacity within their individual service areas.

Ron Edwards, General Manager of the Big Sky Water and Sewer District, noted that 2016 will be a record year for the District for new hook-ups. The Big Sky Water and Sewer District issued more SFE (single family equivalent) permits in 2016 than any other year in its 23-year history.

The Big Sky Water and Sewer District serves 2,600 customers, which represents over half the plant’s capacity to treat, store, and dispose wastewater. The District is exploring a comprehensive list of solutions to expand disposal capacity to meet the demands of full build-out in Big Sky.


Map of the Big Sky area showing land ownership. The county boundaries (grey), Big Sky Area Resort Tax District (bright red), and Big Sky Water and Sewer District boundary (ruby red) are outlined. The major private and public land owners are shaded.

Mike Ducuennois, Yellowstone Club Development, can see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” The Yellowstone Club has sold 578 of 864 memberships. The YC is in the process of building a new treatment plant with the capacity to treat solids to accommodate current expansion and future growth.

In contrast, Moonlight Basin is in the early stages of development. Kevin Germain explained that Moonlight forecasts a 61.3 – 93.9 million-gallon deficiency at full build-out without expanding current wastewater disposal and has plans for a new treatment plant.

According to David O’Connor, General Manager, Buck’s T-4, no common element or political entity defines the Gallatin Canyon. The area utilizes individual well and septic for water supply and wastewater treatment with a few minor public water systems, including the Big Sky School District, Ramshorn, and Buck’s T-4.

Todd Teegarden, Montana Department of Environmental Quality, and Tom Moore, Gallatin County Health Department, explained the legal framework for permitting individual and public wastewater treatment systems. Jeff Dunn, RESPEC Consulting and Services, concluded by listing the potential benefits and drawbacks of future wastewater treatment and disposal solutions.

Karen Filipovich, Consultant and Facilitator for the Forum, shared a diverse palette of solutions including green infrastructure, treatment wetlands, and toilet-to-tap initiatives employed by communities from New Mexico to Montana.

The stakeholders expressed the desire to explore holistic, forward-thinking solutions that will accommodate development while maintaining or enhancing water quality and quantity for both ecological health and the benefit of community and downstream water users.

The Big Sky Sustainable Waters Solutions Forum will host a community town hall meeting with networking to follow on December 6th from 4:00 to 6:00 PM at Buck’s T-4 to hear information about water resources in Big Sky and to share ideas and suggestions. For more information on the Forum, including videos from meetings, visit the website.


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