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Cottonwood Lawsuit challenging DEQ permit to Yellowstone Club dismissed

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On June 30, the 18th Judicial District Court of Gallatin County dismissed a lawsuit against the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, brought by Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, according to a press release from Lone Mountain Land Company. The lawsuit sought to dissolve a permit granted by the DEQ that allows for Big Sky recycled wastewater to be used as a base layer for snowmaking.

The release stated that using recycled water for base layer snowmaking is a conservation tool used across the country. The Gallatin River Task Force first proposed the idea of using Big Sky’s highly treated recycled water for these purposes in 2011, as an internal pilot study showed it would maintain late season water flow for community use.

It wasn’t until March 2020 that recycled water base layers became a possibility in Big Sky, when the Yellowstone Club applied for a permit. A year later, the DEQ issued a draft initial permit notice which was open to public comment.

As for environmental uses of the recycled water, the release stated: “Snow makes up the majority of the source water within the watershed and the 2017 Montana Climate Assessment predicted even less snowfall as the century progresses, further increasing the late season waterflow problem.”

Low late season flow is associated with less dilution of harmful pollutants in the water, the release explained. In the lawsuit, Cottonwood Law argued that the DEQ did not take into account potential pharmaceutical pollution, according to reporting by The Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

In 2017, the Gallatin River Task Force started the Big Sky Sustainable Water Solutions Forum that decided reclaimed water for snowmaking was a reuse priority in Big Sky.

“DEQ is the regulatory agency that has oversight of all reclaimed water use in Montana, and its regulations require snowmaking with reclaimed water to utilize the highest standards recognized for public and environmental health,” the release said.

Cottonwood Law has filed unsuccessful lawsuits against Big Sky businesses and entities before, including Big Sky Resort and multiple against the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District.

“Cottonwood has an extensive history of failed litigation against taxpayers and businesses in the Big Sky Community, among many other suits across the state,” the release stated. Cottonwood Law has 30 days to appeal the decision.

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