How to conserve more water in 2021.
It is, once again, that time of year. It is time to make—and hopefully keep—our New Year’s Resolutions.
For those of us who spend time in the Gallatin River Watershed, keeping the river clean and cold is as good a resolution as any, and there are so many ways you can be successful.
For starters, commit to water conservation in your home. Take advantage of the Big Sky Water Conservation program to upgrade your water-using appliances to more efficient models. The Gallatin River Task Force will pay you to replace your showerheads, clothes washers, and toilets, plus you will save hundreds of dollars on your annual water bills.
Now that the Big Sky Water and Sewer District has moved to a tiered-rate model for ratepayers, water savings at home will lead to big savings in the bank. The Big Sky Water Conservation program also has outdoor options, and landscaping in the summer accounts for seven times more water use than use in the winter.
When we commit to using less water in our homes, we are keeping our groundwater resources full. While it is true that we do not pipe water from the Gallatin River into our homes to cook and clean with, we do pump water destined for the Gallatin up out of the ground and into our faucets. Whether we are connected to the Water and Sewer District or on individual wells, we withdraw water that is bound for the river and use it in our homes. Some makes it back and bolsters the in-stream flow of the Gallatin, but some does not.
Lower flows lead to warmer water temps, which can have adverse effects on aquatic wildlife like fish and their main food source, macroinvertebrates like mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies. The next time you are running a half-empty dishwasher, keep in mind that if plan to match the hatch come summer, the flies will need that water too. Upgrade your appliances, conserve water when possible and keep the Gallatin blue-ribbon.
Once your appliances are upgraded, consider converting your grass lawn into a trout-friendly landscape, restoring native flora that attract native fauna. These shrubs, wildflowers, and native grasses require much less watering once they are established, making this another way to keep your water-saving resolution.
Native plants are drought-tolerant and well adapted to our semi-arid climate, plus they do not require fertilizers that contain harmful nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous. When we use these fertilizers on our lawns and then irrigate, they are transported to nearby creeks and streams, degrading water quality.
If you are lucky enough to live along a creek or own a business adjacent to a stream, consider restoring and enhancing the riparian habitat on your property. Wetlands store water naturally, releasing it slowly throughout the spring and summer so that there are ample in-stream flows later in the season and early in the fall. This keeps fish happy and healthy, keeping our recreation economy sustainable and resilient.
Now that you have committed to conservation in your home and restoration on your property, consider endorsing the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act (MHLA), Wild and Scenic Rivers legislation that was recently introduced by Senator Jon Tester. The bill includes 39 miles of the Gallatin and 18 miles of the Taylor Fork, along with other iconic waterways in Montana, setting a standard for river protection and resource conservation. The MHLA enjoys broad support across our great state, and a recent University of Montana poll shows 80% of residents are in favor of more Wild and Scenic rivers in Montana.
As you can see, there are many ways you can resolve to protect and conserve the Gallatin. Do it because you enjoy fly fishing. Do it because you enjoy whitewater rafting. Do it because the Gallatin sustains us and enables us to live in this special place. Whatever your reason, you can feel good knowing you are doing your part to guarantee a clean, cold Gallatin for future generations.
This article originally appeared in our Explore Big Sky Water Wisdom column.