Making it in Big Sky: Big Sky County Water and Sewer District
By Mira Brody CONTENT MARKETING STRATEGIST
BIG SKY – The next time you turn on the water in your home in Big Sky, think about the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District and the work of Ron Edwards, the district’s general manager. Created in 1993 to address the water and sewer problems in the budding mountain community, the district has since grown about 4.5 percent to meet need.
Explore Big Sky sat down with Edwards to talk about his time with the water and sewer district since his first day on Dec. 18, 1995, the improvements he’s advocated for over the years and the organizations in the community that have made them possible.
This series is part of a paid partnership with the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce. The following answers have been edited for brevity.
Explore Big Sky: I’d like to start with a little background information on you, when did you come to Big Sky?
Ron Edwards: My first day of work was Dec. 18, 1995.
EBS: Could you tell me about the history of the water and sewer district? When and why was it established? How/when did you become involved?
RE: The district was created after an election in November of 1993. I was hired as the General Manager two years later. Our predecessor organization was the Rural Improvement District 305. The Big Sky County Water and Sewer District was created to deal with the sewer system problems, which led to a building moratorium in 1993.
“As our community continues to develop at a higher pace, we must stay ahead of it in terms of wastewater treatment capacity and drinking water supplies.”Ron Edwards, General Manager, Big Sky County Water and Sewer District
EBS: How big is your team?
RE: We have nine employees. Four live in Big Sky, one in Gallatin Gateway, three in the Bozeman area and one from Townsend who rents during the week in Big Sky. I have lived in the same house in Four Corners for the past 25 years.
EBS: What services does the water and sewer district provide the community?
RE: We provide essential water and sewer service for the Mountain and Meadow Villages, Aspen Groves, Cascade, Hidden Village, Lone Moose Meadows, South Fork, Town Center and Westfork. We also provide sewer-only service to Spanish Peaks and Lone Mountain Ranch. Our office conference room is also the unofficial Town Hall of Big Sky hosting all kinds of community meetings at no cost.
EBS: How has the district grown and adapted to a growing community?
RE: Our district has grown from 1900 single-family equivalents in 1993 to 6,675 in 2021, a 4.5 percent average. We have adapted by investing in our infrastructure. We have spent close to $30 million dollars fixing problems and improving public water and sewer systems. The district lined the wastewater storage ponds in 1996 and built a new 11.5 million dollar wastewater treatment plant in 2002. We are now upgrading that plant with a new $45 million dollar plant that will have higher capacity and treatment capabilities. These improvements would not have been possible without the support of our Board of Directors, Big Sky Resort Tax, and the overwhelming support from our property owners and customers.
EBS: What are some challenges you face in a growing and unincorporated community and how does your team handle them?
RE: As our community continues to develop at a higher pace, we must stay ahead of it in terms of wastewater treatment capacity and drinking water supplies. This will require treating our wastewater to higher standards as we expand summer irrigation and use reclaimed water for snowmaking. We have and have had progressive boards that make decisions to invest in new technology and improve our infrastructure to improve our systems as we grow. We also work cooperatively with our neighbors: the new Canyon District, Moonlight Basin and the Yellowstone Club.
Now, one of biggest challenges is finding our replacements. We have several “senior” staff members (myself included) that are close to retirement. Finding staff to replace us is [proving] to be more difficult than we thought. The cost of housing in Big Sky and Bozeman poses to maybe be our biggest challenge.
EBS: When you’re not working, what is your favorite activity in Big Sky?
RE: Meeting with people, preferably over a beer.
EBS: What is the best business advice you have ever received?
RE: As a utility manager I am not going to pretend that I can give a small business owner any real advice here, but the one thing that has been helpful to me has been learning how to read a balance sheet and profit and loss statement. We have a captive client base because they are physically connected to our pipes. If they don’t like our service they have no choice but to come back. We also have rate setting authority, which makes our bottom line much easier to manage. I have been amazed over the years watching many diverse small businesses that don’t have these advantages start up in Big Sky and succeed.
EBS: Anything else you would like to tell the Big Sky community?
RE: Thank you for your support for the past 26 years. We can’t do this without you.