BY KAREN FILIPOVICH, Professional Facilitator
The Big Sky Sustainable Water Solutions Forum (Water Forum) stakeholders, representing diverse community and watershed perspectives, continue the collaborative effort to develop a unified watershed stewardship plan for the Big Sky area. The collaborative approach to water resources management allows the entire community to work together to make decisions and manage water resources for the long term.
The BSSWS Forum stakeholders reached a consensus on the vision: “Big Sky strives to be a model mountain community by protecting and improving water resources, sustaining ecological health of the watersheds, and supporting a vibrant local economy.” This vision is supported by goals in three focus areas: ecological health of the river systems, water supply and availability, and wastewater treatment and reuse. These goals focus on protecting and enhancing the river systems while also meeting the water resource needs of a vibrant community.
The BSSWS Forum stakeholders have identified water resource challenges for the Big Sky community that include limited physical and legal water supply, limited capacity to address water supply and sanitation needs of a growing resident and visitor population, cumulative impacts from past and current activities, impairments to water quality, climate variability and change, and fragmented political, management, and ownership boundaries across portions of the headwaters of the Madison and Gallatin watersheds.
To address these challenges, the Water Forum stakeholders are analyzing alternatives and identifying priorities for action. Initial priorities identified include:
- Monitoring ecological indicators and sharing those with the community routinely so that everyone has a clear understanding of the health of the river systems.
- Addressing existing impacts to the ecological health of the river system.
- Managing ground and surface water as well as treated wastewater in a way that ensures that this valuable resource is conserved and used effectively.
- Ensuring that wastewater reuse does not negatively impact river systems.
Decisions for final recommendations will reflect the consensus of the Water Forum stakeholders. Over the next few months, the Gallatin River Task Force, the host of this effort and one of the 36 Water Forum stakeholders, and other stakeholders will reach out to community groups and community members in Big Sky and downstream to share information and hear input. This input will be shared at the Water Forum meetings when they reconvene in the fall. The Water Forum aims to develop a draft watershed stewardship plan by December 2017. At that time, the Gallatin River Task Force will host additional public meetings to present the plan to the community and hear feedback.
More information about the collaborative effort and water resources in Big Sky is available on the project pages.