The Lazy J Gallatin Canyon subdivision’s water pollution permit was declared unlawful in a Nov. 15 court order
By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER
A district court judge this month ordered the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to reassess a water discharge permit for the Lazy J South subdivision’s wastewater treatment facility in Big Sky.
Lazy J South is a commercial and residential development located on U.S. Highway 191, less than half a mile from the Gallatin River.
The case was opened on July 16, 2021, when the Upper Missouri Waterkeeper and Montana Environmental Information Center filed a joint complaint alleging that the permit “is void and illegal because the DEQ did not conduct proper or thorough review of the effect of the wastewater, including nitrogen charges, on state water,” according to the district court ruling. The permit—to discharge from a level two wastewater treatment system—was first issued in 2006 to Bostwick Properties and renewed in 2013 to expire in 2017.
Bostwick received a renewed permit with DEQ approval in 2017, and on May 21, 2021, DEQ renewed the permit again and transferred it to Lazy J.
According to a Nov. 16 press release from the MEIC, permitted sewage discharges have contaminated local groundwater in connection to the Gallatin River’s consecutive years of nuisance algal blooms.
“We are encouraged by the Court’s ruling today, which vindicates the public’s right to a thorough assessment of pollution impacts to our local waterways before decision making,” Guy Alsentzer, executive director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, stated in the release. “The Lazy J South pollution permit is just a single case representative of the larger issue in Montana, where agencies continue to rubber-stamp new development approvals without looking at the combined impacts on our finite and valuable water resources.”
The July complaint alleged that the DEQ skipped the required non-degradation analysis before granting the permit in May, which violated the Montana Water Quality Act. According to the court ruling, the DEQ determined that the water system did not constitute a “new or increased source” thereby exempting it from review required by the Water Quality Act.
Derf Johnson, deputy director of the MEIC, stated that the DEQ has a long history of failing to evaluate the totality of water pollution, avoiding evaluation and analysis which measure the ‘big picture’ health of Montana waterways.
“Thankfully, the Judge’s ruling recognizes that the law requires a cumulative analysis by DEQ, so that Montana’s rivers and streams won’t be degraded, fouled, and suffer death by one thousand cuts,” Johnson stated.