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Water Wisdom: Into the flow

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By David Tucker EBS CONTRIBUTOR

The Wild West. A free-for-all. Disorganized. Short-sighted.

These are phrases I’ve heard in the coffee shops and beer halls of Bozeman, describing Big Sky’s growth. To outsiders, it appears that Big Sky is a runaway train destined for a precipice. On every visit, there are more hotels, restaurants, retail shops and condominiums. There is traffic at every intersection and lift lines at the ski hill. How is the town planning for even more growth?

Obviously, I understand why people want to be in Big Sky, but is there a sustainable path forward? The Big Sky I’d known and loved from a decade previous—I did my time as the front desk supervisor at the Huntley in 2008-09—has changed, and no one seems to be doing anything about it. Or so I thought.

Recently, certain life changes brought me to Big Sky working fulltime, from about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. I work here now, and after just under a month in town, it’s clear that many people are doing quite a lot to plan for a future Big Sky that is recognizable to both longtime locals and repatriated residents.

Granted, my experience is limited to plans to protect and restore water resources, but without clean water, the town does not exist, so I think water is a good place to start.

As the communications manager for the Gallatin River Task Force, I’ve spent the last three weeks in and out of meetings—committee meetings, board meetings, public meetings, marketing meetings. I’ve met hydrologists, wastewater technicians, anglers, boaters, skiers and journalists. I’ve talked to donors, volunteers, other new staff and longtime supporters of the Task Force.

One person I haven’t talked to is a mayor, a commissioner, a city council member or a city manager. That’s because Big Sky doesn’t have a town government—the people I’ve met are all involved and engaged citizens.

Some have a personal stake in the Gallatin’s health because they are avid anglers and can’t imagine living here without a robust trout population. Some have a financial stake in Big Sky’s future because they bought a home here and would like to see their investment appreciate in value. Some are employed to manage water, and are therefore duty-bound to plan for supply, treatment and disposal. And some are conservationists, hell-bent on leaving an ecologically intact watershed for future generations.

But they all have one thing in common—they care, and they’re trying to empower a plan with broad-reaching effects. Less than two years ago, the Gallatin River Task Force and our partners developed the Big Sky Sustainable Watershed Plan, a process that in and of itself took several years to finalize. Armed with the Watershed Plan, the Big Sky community now has a framework for growth that considers impact to natural resources and environmental systems, like the water supply.

While it’s easy to say that talk is cheap, and that a plan doesn’t mean much without action, it’s clear to me that the people I’ve met are paying much more than just lip service to this problem. They understand the gravity of their circumstances, that we’re impacting the watershed, an essential part of any healthy community, but especially the Big Sky community, and we need to do something about it.

Now, when I go back to Bozeman, I’m happy to report to my friends and neighbors that while the challenge real, Big Sky is on the case. Mistakes will be made and progress will come in fits and starts, but the building blocks are there—all we have to do is put them into place.

David Tucker is the communications manager for the Gallatin River Task Force.

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