Big Sky County Water & Sewer District board of directors trustee Brian Wheeler and W&S General Manager Ron Edwards take part in the ongoing conversation surrounding Big Sky’s wastewater treatment and potential.

A victory for conservation interests 

Water & Sewer board explores option of reusing water 
“The conservation community felt… there was commitment toward immediately moving towards a discharge permit to commensurate with treatment levels expressed in Phase 1. And now that that has been clarified to say no, there is no evidence that the board is moving toward getting a discharge permit… that makes the conservation community feel much better,” said Alsentzer. 

The February 19 Big Sky County Water & Sewer District board meeting saw an unexpected turn – and big victory for the environmental groups that had sent a letter to the board threatening legal action several weeks ago in an attempt to “protect the Gallatin.”

Attorney Guy Alsentzer with Upper Missouri Waterkeepers remained in communication with W&S board member Peter Manka. Alsentzer addressed the board, thanking them.

“Peter [Manka] did send an email out to the larger conservation community and I appreciate the board enabling Peter to be a one-man committee.”

Alsentzer described confusion on the part of the conservation community in thinking that the W&S district was going to immediately move toward a permit to discharge into the Gallatin River.  

“The conservation community felt… there was commitment toward immediately moving towards a discharge permit to commensurate with treatment levels expressed in Phase 1. And now that that has been clarified to say no, there is no evidence that the board is moving toward getting a discharge permit… that makes the conservation community feel much better,” said Alsentzer. 

He continued: “How do we synergize and make efficient any type of an upgrade?” he asked the board for more “bang for your buck technology” to meet future community needs. “What kinds of other technologies could the district commit itself to so that during Phase 2 [and] Phase 3, the district has on its tool belt the ability to do dual phase treatment? So, you get one stream of wastewater that’s being treated to an incredibly high level and allows you to do a variety of different applications – not limited to but importantly – indirect potable reuse.”

Alsentzer further encouraged the board to be proactive and forward thinking – making decisions now which allow for flexibility later. Indirect potable reuse could be the solution, he explained. 

“You know you’re not going to have enough water in the next five to 10 years, period. You know you’re going to grow in terms of your gross disposal needs from this facility. The easy way – the gray water technology is to put it into the river. That’s going to be a fight. That’s not fun,” he said. 

The other – and what Alsentzer believes is the better option – is to treat the waste water and make it work “more than once for this district and make it an asset instead of a liability. That’s your win-win scenario for Big Sky and for this board in particular.”  

Membrane bio reactor (MBR), the technology set to be used in Phase 1, is the first step in creating any kind of foundation for indirect potable reuse, Scott Buecker, senior project manager with Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services said

In an effort spurred by Board President Packy Cronin, the district will be creating a proposal in pursuit of funding from the Big Sky Resort Tax board in order to doa hydrogeologic study or a “fate and transport” study of the feasibility of recharging the aquifer by injection of treated water. 

“Why don’t we do that fate and transport study on this side, that side or whatever so we can wrap our heads around this?” Cronin asked. 

Board member Mike DuCuennois said it’s what environmentalist groups have requested and the board should listen. 

“They don’t have to drink our water,” Big Sky County Water & Sewer District General Manager Ron Edwards quipped.  

Board member Brian Wheeler pointed out that if the board moves forward with a plan of reuse it is likely another group of people will surface which will be just as protective of their drinking water as Alsentzer is of the Gallatin River. 

“What we are doing is further defining the disposal options. Snowmaking – this is another option that is on the table which we haven’t even looked at mostly because we’re all freaked out by the hydrogeology,” DuCuennois explained. 

The board decided to move forward with an application to request funding for further study from the Big Sky Resort Tax board. It is estimated the cost would be around $300,000. 

“This is probably the happiest I’ve been, hearing that,” Alsentzer said. “I think it speaks to the integrity of the board.”

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