Voice of the River

What’s in Store for the Upper Gallatin River in 2021?

A Letter from the Executive Director.

Twenty years ago, a small group of concerned citizens formed the Blue Water Task Force. They were worried about water quality in the Upper Gallatin River Watershed, and they wanted to learn more about the challenges before them. At that time, Big Sky was rapidly developing and change was all around us.

The same can be said about Big Sky today, the difference being that we are now equipped with two decades of data that help inform our work. We’re again at a point of rapid change, but we have the benefit of knowledge. What we do with that knowledge will determine what Big Sky and the Upper Gallatin River look like 20 years from now.

Will we adopt the Big Sky Sustainable Watershed Plan? Will we prioritize protecting our natural resources and repairing the damage already done? Will we recognize that our community and economy depend on clean water, functioning ecosystems, and open spaces?

If we rise to the occasion, think long term, and develop with sustainability not only in mind but at the forefront of all of our decisions, we can build resilience into our mountain town. We can bolster our water resources against the uncertainty of climate change. We can clean up streams and restore wetlands. We can save water in our homes and in our businesses. And we can landscape and irrigate in ways that help the environment instead of harming it.

As I write this, these efforts are already underway. In the last year, and with your support, we delivered major victories for our watershed’s long-term health. With the passage of the 1% for Infrastructure tax, the Big Sky Water and Sewer District will be constructing a new, vastly upgraded wastewater-treatment facility. This will be a major improvement over our current plant, and the water processed there will be much cleaner, allowing for better reuse options. Our advocacy and community outreach played a major role in getting this project across the finish line, and our water-quality data has long served as a reminder that our current facilities are inadequate.

Along Hwy. 191, we completed the second major river-access restoration project at Upper Deer Creek, revegetating heavily eroded streambanks with native plants that provide vital trout habitat. This effort will also create sustainable boat launches for rafts and kayaks, decreasing the impact of recreation as more and more users take advantage of the Gallatin’s easy access. With Upper Deer Creek complete, we turn our attention to the Porcupine / Beaver Creek area that is also in dire need of restoration and recreation management.

On a smaller scale, but with arguably a larger potential impact, the Big Sky Water Conservation program continues to grow with the expansion of our free showerhead swap and the introduction of our Trout-Friendly Landscaping program. Now, individuals and businesses are rewarded for their conservation efforts with cash rebates, saving money along with water and energy.

This year’s progress is encouraging, but we have much work to do. A mid-summer algae bloom reminded us that the effort never ends, and that the resource is fragile. It will take constant vigilance to ensure we are successful in our mission to ensure a clean, cold Gallatin River for future generations. With your continued support, I am confident we will deliver on that promise.

Kristin Gardner, PhD

This letter originally appeared in our 2020 Annual Report. To give back to the Gallatin, become a member today.


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