By Karen Filipovich, Professional Facilitator

The Big Sky Sustainable Water Solutions Forum proposed strategies to encourage Big Sky residents and visitors to use less water; increase water recycling; and preserve and enhance streams, riparian areas, and wetlands. The Water Forum presented twelve consensus recommendations to the community on January 31, 2018.  Successful implementation will ensure that this mountain resort community supports healthy rivers and a thriving human community.

The recommendations represent the consensus of stakeholders representing 35 diverse community, conservation, agriculture, business, downstream, agency, and local government perspectives. They focus on three water resources areas: the ecological health of the river systems; water supply and availability; and wastewater treatment and reuse.

The Ecological Health of the River Systems recommendations envision a watershed status and trend monitoring program and dashboard to ensure that the information needed to assess progress and identify areas of concern is collected and shared with the community. Watershed restoration and conservation actions to address existing impairments and protect high-quality water resources were also identified as critical for fisheries, water quality, and the recreation-based economy.

The Water Supply and Availability recommendations work together to ensure that limited water is managed in a way that slows the flow of water through the watersheds and ensures water is recycled as many times as possible. Modeling and monitoring groundwater, water conservation, stormwater management, and further reuse of treated wastewater were all identified as priority actions, along with a longer-term investigation of mitigation.

The Wastewater Treatment and Reuse priorities recommended treating wastewater streams to high levels in order to maximize beneficial reuse of limited water supplies in the headwaters area. The portfolio of recycling treated wastewater methods includes snowmaking, expanded reuse for irrigation, and further investigation of shallow groundwater recharge. In Gallatin Canyon and the outlying areas that rely on individual septic systems and small public systems, continued work will be needed to raise treatment levels in order to reduce nutrient loads in surface and groundwater.

Implementation

Sustained efforts from community partners and individuals will be vital for successful implementation. Full implementation will require new capacity as well as further alignment and sustained effort by businesses, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and individuals.

Work has already begun. An engineering study evaluating improvements to centralized treatment levels is underway. Progress has been made to investigate the practical details of snowmaking, an expanded purple pipe system in Town Center to accommodate future reused wastewater irrigation, and plans in Moonlight to irrigate its golf course with reused water. A strong foundation for the expansion of the status and trends monitoring system is in place, and work toward filling gaps in groundwater knowledge are in progress.

Individual land and business owners have significant opportunities to be stewards of Big Sky’s water resources.

Landowners can:

  • Reduce effluent that needs to be treated by installing water conserving appliances. The Big Sky Water Conservation Program offers rebates to area homeowners.
  • Reduce irrigation needs in summer by installing water-wise irrigation systems and changing planting choices to species adapted to the dry, high conditions of the Big Sky area. Rebates are available.
  • For landowners that have septic systems and wells, proper septic care and well maintenance is critical for system longevity helps keep people and streams healthy. A class to help homeowners get the most out of their well and septic systems will be held on April 17 at the Big Sky Water & Sewer District.

The full Big Sky Area Sustainable Watershed Stewardship Plan and the executive summary are available on the Water Forum project page hosted by the Gallatin River Task Force.

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