Every Day River Smarts

Septic Systems

Did you know that leaking septic systems are one of the leading causes of elevated nitrate in streams in the Big Sky area?

On its way to the Gallatin River, water from rain and snowmelt flows across and through the landscape. This runoff picks up and carries natural and human-made pollutants, known as nonpoint source pollution.

Excess nitrate is the most pressing nonpoint source pollution issue in the Big Sky area. In a natural system, nitrate stimulates aquatic plant growth. However, excess nitrate feeds algal blooms, which can cause a cascade of negative effects in aquatic ecosystems.

Septic systems are like cars; they require regular maintenance.

Here are some basic tips to help you maintain your septic system:

  • Dispose of waste properly: Septic systems are delicate ecosystems that rely on living organisms to treat wastewater.
  • Flushable does not mean septic safe: Only human waste and toilet paper are septic safe.
  • Disposable means it belongs in the trash: Pouring chemicals, such as bleach or paint, down the drain can kill microbes.
  • Perform regular maintenance: Pump your tank when indicated by annual inspections, generally every 3-5 years.
  • Protect your drain field: Don’t park cars or drive over your drain field and don’t plant trees or deep-rooted plants near your septic system.
  • Conserve water where possible: Excess water can flood your drain field.

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Trout Friendly Landscaping

Did you know that watering during the heat of the day wastes up to 65% of water through evaporation?

Our landscaping practices have a huge impact on the health of the Gallatin River. Follow these tips to create your own trout-friendly landscape.

Tips on limiting fertilizer application:

  • Raise mower blade and mow higher.
  • Test your soil to determine how much and what proportion of nitrogen, phosphorous, and other nutrients your landscape needs.
  • Use organic fertilizer like landscape clippings and compost.

Tips on reducing herbicide and pesticide use:

  • Lightly spot spray weeds with chemical fertilizer.
  • Use beneficial insects to control pests.
  • Never water after applying herbicides or pesticides.

Tips for preserving a vegetated streambank:

  • Keep existing native plants, shrubs, and trees.
  • Plant woody natives on exposed streambanks.
  • Do not mow or spray herbicides close to the streambank.

Tips on conserving water:

  • Consider xeriscaping, which uses low-water-use plants.
  • Automate sprinkler systems to limit watering during rain events greater than half an inch.
  • Water at night or early morning.

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Did you know that each year 8 million tons of plastics enter our oceans?

Plastic lasts forever, decaying into smaller and smaller pieces over time. Most plastic pieces in the ocean are tiny – 5 millimeters in size or smaller (less than a ¼ inch).

Microplastics attract other pollutants, including triclosan and PCPs, which can be absorbed by aquatic organisms. These pollutants accumulate over time to threaten both wildlife and human health.

Help make microplastic pollution history! Here are five easy ways to reduce plastics in our rivers, lakes, and oceans:

  1. Avoid cosmetics and toiletries with microbeads (look for the words polyethylene or polystyrene in the ingredients list).
  2. Wash fleece and other synthetic fabrics less often.
  3. Wean yourself off disposable plastics (grocery bags, plastics wrap, disposable cutlery, straws, coffee-cup lids, etc.).
  4. Purchase items secondhand.
  5. Buy food in bulk or buy items that use less packaging.

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Storm Water Runoff

Did you know that runoff from impervious surfaces (rooftops, paved streets, highways, and parking lots) is not treated before running down a storm drain and directly into a local waterway?

Rain and snowmelt can pick up pollutants such as oil, fertilizer, pesticides, soil trash, and animal waste and carry them directly to the Gallatin River. According to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, stormwater is a leading contributor to water quality pollution in waterways throughout Montana.

Here are 10 tips from the Environmental Protection Agency to prevent storm water runoff pollution:

  1. Use fertilizer sparingly and sweep up driveways, sidewalks, and gutters.
  2. Never dump anything down storm drains or in streams.
  3. Vegetate bare spots in your yard.
  4. Compost your yard waste.
  5. Use less toxic pesticides, follow labels, and learn how to prevent pest problems.
  6. Direct downspouts away from paved surfaces; consider a rain garden to capture runoff.
  7. Take your car to the car wash instead of washing it in the driveway.
  8. Check your car for leaks and recycle your motor oil.
  9. Pick up after your pet.
  10. Have your septic system pumped and inspected regularly.

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Water Conservation

Did you know that if everyone in the United Sates used just 1 less gallon of water per shower each day, we could save 85 billion gallons of water per year?

Conserving water is vital to the health of the Gallatin River. Big Sky is drought-prone, receiving less than 20 inches of precipitation each year. Keeping water in the river sustains a healthy fishery, benefits river recreation, and serves our community and our neighbors downstream.

Saving water is easy, but we must establish new habits in our homes.

Here are some fun, free, and easy ways to save water at home:

  1. Select the proper pan size for cooking. Large pans may require more cooking water than necessary.
  2. When doing laundry, match the water level to the size of the load.
  3. If your shower fills a one-gallon bucket in less than 20 seconds, replace the showerhead with a WATERSENSE® labeled model.
  4. Put food coloring in your toilet tank. If it seeps into the bowl without flushing, there’s a leak. Fix it and start saving gallons.
  5. Designate one glass for your drinking water each day, or refill a water bottle. This will cut down on the number of glasses you wash.
  6. Monitor your water bill for unusually high use. Your bill and water meter are tools that can help you discover leaks.
  7. Apply for a rebate from the Big Sky Water Conservation Program to replace old showerheads, washing machines, and toilets with new water efficient models.

Tips and graphics from Water Use It Wisely

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Aquatic Invasive Species

Aquatic invasive species are plants, animals, and pathogens that are not native to Montana and can cause harm to the environment and economy.

AIS are introduced accidentally or intentionally outside of their native range. AIS populations can reproduce quickly and spread rapidly because there are no natural predators or competitors to keep them in check. AIS can displace native species, clog waterways, impact irrigation and power systems, degrade ecosystems, threaten recreational fishing opportunities, and can cause wildlife and public health problems.

You can prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species by following “Clean. Drain. Dry.” principles:

  1. Clean: Completely remove all mud, water, and vegetation before leaving the access area.
  2. Drain: All water from watercraft and equipment.
  3. Dry: All watercraft and equipment. Invaders can only survive in water and wet areas.

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