Photo courtesy of BSCWSD

Poop Chute lives up to its name

In a degree of irony, a sanitary sewer overflow occurred last week on what old timers of Big Sky affectionately call the Poop Chute ski trail.

Officially called the outfall line by the Big Sky County Water and Sewer Department (BSCWSD) the area is technically an easement that houses the water and sewer lines that extend from the mountain down the meadow – hence the longtime witty moniker.

It all started around 3:30 in the afternoon on Wednesday, Feb. 26. Someone called BSCWSD wastewater operator Peter Bedell and said a manhole was overflowing.

Bedell skied down to the manhole and it was not overflowing at the time. “He went back up there first thing in the morning and it was overflowing. Then, I went out there an hour later and it was not overflowing and the level in the manhole was dropping,” BSCWSD wastewater superintendent Grant Burroughs said. “By 11:15 a.m. Thursday the 27th, it was fixed. There are enough people going by that manhole that they would have notified us. They would have called us. I think it was only happening for a day.”

Burroughs and Bedell removed construction debris from the sewer pipe. With the large diameter of the PVC pipe and lack of construction using that size pipe in the area for a long time, Burroughs believes the sewer pipe may have been partially blocked for years.

Some of the debris likely caught some extra debris and then it overflowed, he said.

Montana Department of Environmental Equality has a procedure in place for when these situations happen. Municipalities have 24 hours to report the incident via telephone and five days to fill- out a Sanitary Sewer Overflow or SSO Event Form.

Initially, Burroughs calculated the overflow to be about 62,500 gallons.

“I based that on 250,000 gallons per day coming down the mountain, but what I forgot to take into account was that it might have been overflowing, but it was only partially blocked. So, the overflow would be a lot less than 62,500. These are estimates, but I believe the number is actually more like 10-12,000 gallons,” he said.

He is contacting MT DEQ to see if he can amend the SSO Event Form. Public Information Specialist with MT DEQ Moira Davin explained that the DEQ receives a number of SSO forms, but it is not common to have a sewage overflow in proximity to a water source. In this case, there is concern for the Middlefork of the Gallatin River. “This was a remote area. Due to the depth of the snow, I could not tell conclusively if it reached the Middlefork of the Gallatin River. Based on these new numbers, I really don’t think it reached the river. 12,000 gallons isn’t much relatively speaking – and it was about 180 feet from the Middlefork,” Burroughs said.

Davin said MT DEQ requested sampling both upstream and downstream of the point of discharge.

“Once we get [test results] back, then we can determine the next steps,” she said.

Burroughs said he pulled samples and sent them to Energy Laboratories in Billings and the water will be tested for nutrients, total nitrogen, ammonia, total phosphorus, and also fecal coliform and e-coli.

Big Sky County Water and Sewer District Manager Ron Edwards asserted that this is no crisis, particularly since the overflow estimate is so much less than initially thought.

For perspective, he cited Fort Lauderdale’s recently busted sewer pipe that spilled 211.6 million gallons of sewage in South Florida. “That is news,” he said.

Comment Here