Voice of the River

Big Sky Sustainable Water Solutions Forum Brings Recommendations and Plan for Sustaining Water Resources to the Community

By Karen Filipovich, Professional Facilitator 

Photos by Amanda Eggert and Ben Mackall

The Big Sky Sustainable Water Solutions Forum (Water Forum) is hosting a community town hall meeting to share its recommendations for sustaining water resources in the Big Sky area. The meeting will be held on January 31, 2018, from 5:30 to 7 pm at the Big Sky Chapel.

Stakeholders representing agriculture, business, conservation, local government, agency, downstream, and recreation perspectives have identified these recommendations for Big Sky’s water resources through consensus. The group, which has been working together since June 2016, identified solutions in three water resource areas: the ecological health of the river systems; water supply and availability; and wastewater treatment and reuse.

The stakeholders developed a vision and goals that state water resources stewardship must simultaneously support healthy river systems while meeting the water needs of a growing mountain community. All recommended priorities and actions in the Big Sky Area Sustainable Watershed Stewardship Plan were agreed upon by consensus.

Recommendations to maintain ecological health include expanding monitoring of water quality, riparian areas, wetlands, and fisheries; sharing trends and progress with the community; and completing projects to restore the river systems. Priorities to sustain water supply and availability include enhancing surface and groundwater monitoring and modeling; increasing water conservation throughout Big Sky; and prioritizing activities to “slow the flow” of water through the watershed including stormwater management, treated wastewater reuse, and the potential for mitigation.

Highly treating wastewater to expand beneficial reuse options, increase current reuse for irrigation and/or snowmaking, and investigate shallow groundwater recharge potential were all recommended in the area of wastewater treatment and reuse. The stakeholders were not able to come to a final consensus on the wastewater reuse alternatives of direct surface water discharge and potable drinking water for reuse because significant questions remain about the potential benefits to the river systems and level of community support.

The recommended priorities and actions have the support of a wide spectrum of stakeholders. Implementation will require the coordination of many partners ranging from individual landowners caring for their yards to multi-party agreements to changes in state rules for wastewater reuse. Implementation will take years and require significant additional capacity, coordination, and infrastructure. The result will be a community that can sustain itself and the Gallatin and Madison watersheds. By succeeding, Big Sky will become model of how to effectively manage limited water resources in a fragile, high altitude ecosystem.

The Gallatin River Task Force hosted the Water Forum and is one stakeholder. Hosting this community-based process is part of their mission to promote the health of the Gallatin River watershed.

The community meeting is free and open to the public. The report will be out prior to the meeting and posted on the project page. Questions from community members are welcomed at the meeting. For more information, contact Karen at bigskywaterforum@gmail.com.


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