By Emily Stifler, Managing Editor

The Big Sky Water and Sewer District is a zero river discharge system, which means it doesn’t discharge wastewater directly into the river. But the district faces changes challenges to keep that recognition.

“If the [BSWSD] is going to remain committed to being a zero river discharge system in the future, alternatives for disposing treated water need to be explored and developed,” BSWSD general manager Ron Edwards wrote in the Blue Water Task Force’s fall 2011 newsletter.

The district is starting a pilot project this winter to use treated effluent to make snow—called “snowfluent.” This effluent snow could be used as a base snowpack at the ski areas, or piled on a plot away from the resorts.

Several ski areas in the U.S. already use snowmaking for wastewater disposal, and a wastewater district in Island Park, Idaho also has a small snowfluent system.

This past spring, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality approved the pilot project plan, including construction of a small snowmaking site at the Yellowstone Club.

The district has partnered with the ski resorts to work on the small-scale pilot snowfluent project, which has received funding from the Big Sky Resort Area District Tax.

This fall, Yellowstone Club staff completed the site work, adding drainage ditches and berms to contain the runoff from the snowmaking site, which will flow back into a lined wastewater storage pond. In early November a Yellowstone Club snowmaking gun started using water pumped from a storage pond to make base snow. Rich Chandler, the YC’s environmental manager, was particularly thankful to Techno Alpin for donating a T-40 snowmaking gun for the project.

Seven snowmelt collecting devices were installed along the site to collect snowmelt water, which the BWTF started collecting in mid-November and will analyze for water quality. Runoff from the same site was sampled this past spring and will provide background information for comparison.

“The District is hopeful that the data from the first year of pilot testing will lead the MTDEQ to look at snowfluent as a viable treatment and disposal alternative,” Edwards wrote. “If the data from the first year looks good it could be the first step.”

The district doesn’t expect the DEQ to write rules around snowfluent technology for several years, he added.