Wastewater entering the sewer treatment plant peaks on New Year’s Day
By Stephanie Lynn Gallatin River Task Force
Skiers, snowboarders, and party-goers surge during the holiday season in Big Sky. Whether they ride one plank or two, holiday revelers all have one thing in common: they all flush.
“Inflows into the plant go up whenever Big Sky has a lot of visitors, especially over New Year’s and over the spring break season,” said Grant Burroughs, wastewater superintendent for the Big Sky Water and Sewer District, the system that provides water and wastewater treatment to the meadow and mountain areas. “This winter’s plant flows are down from last year’s and are more in line with previous low [to average] snow years.”
The hectic holiday season brings crowds of visitors to Big Sky, who generate additional wastewater by flushing the toilet, but also through everyday activities such as cooking, cleaning and showering. Although the separate wastewater facility at the Yellowstone Club is several times smaller than the Big Sky Water and Sewer District, Mike DuCuennois, vice president of development at the private club, noted that their busiest week also occurs between Christmas and early January.
According to Josh French, the operations foreman at the Bozeman Water Reclamation Facility, wastewater flows there also fluctuate throughout the year; however, variation in wastewater coming into the system is primarily driven by spring snowmelt infiltrating the system and the Montana State University calendar.
Steady growth in Big Sky, and the surrounding area, overlies these seasonal patterns, driven by visitation and snowmelt. In fact, the total annual wastewater volume flowing into the Big Sky Water and Sewer District treatment plant has nearly doubled in the past 15 years, approaching the limits of the system. The district recently completed a draft study exploring options to expand their plant and plan for development in the area where they provide water and sewer service.
Upgrades to the treatment plant are necessary, but expensive, especially for a small community like Big Sky. However, each resident and visitor can help to maximize the capacity of the plant and protect the Gallatin River by reducing their wastewater footprint through water conservation.
“Toilets are responsible for about 27 percent of our daily household water use. On average, we flush anywhere from 7 to 35 gallons a day, depending on how water-efficient the toilet is,” said Emily Casey, the water conservation program coordinator at the Gallatin River Task Force.
“Two of the best ways you can make an impact to conserve water at home are to upgrade to ‘WaterSense’-labeled toilets and check for leaks regularly. Find toilet leak tabs at the Task Force office and [Big Sky Water and] Sewer District lobby.”
Water saved in homes and businesses remains in the river and out of the wastewater treatment plant, which benefits both the community and the ecosystem.
Every flush counts.
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