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Op-Ed: Stay beautiful, use less water

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By Emily Casey

Big Sky’s got a problem, we’re too thirsty. Or more accurately, we think our lawns are.

Recent data from the Big Sky Water and Sewer District have shown that our water use skyrockets in the summer due to landscape irrigation.

Looking closer, Gallatin River Task Force and the BSWSD found outdoor water use accounted for 85 percent of total annual water use on average for 57 homes in Meadow Village last year. Combined, these single-family homes used enough water in just three months to fill four Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Why is this a problem?

Our water supplies are physically limited. Snowpack and spring rains supply water for the whole year in our semi-arid alpine environment. July and August are not only the driest months of the year, but months where we rely on water the most.

When we irrigate, a lot of water is lost to evaporation and little may actually be taken up by the plants. Water that is lost from wind, sun exposure or inefficient irrigation is unable to serve the health of our plant and soil communities or help recharge our groundwater sources, where we get 100 percent of our drinking water in Big Sky.

This water doesn’t just feed our small community, but supplies water for many downstream irrigators, municipal systems, aquatic species, river recreation and businesses. Increasing concerns about how our water supply and availability may be affected by climatic shifts and growth create an additional case for conservation as a whole.

There is no doubt that our outdoor landscapes and gardens mean a lot to us. Just driving around town, we observe numerous well-kept lawns. But, do you also notice irrigation sprays hitting the street or nearby sidewalks? Do you notice the sprinklers coming on at the same time each day even when it’s raining?

We have a problem, and it’s an important one, but the best thing is that it’s solvable. Let’s work smarter, not harder. Using simple strategies like these can save anywhere from 20 to 60 percent of water used outside:

– Consider site characteristics like exposure, slope areas and soils to inform landscape design.
– Be strategic about lawn placement and how/where it will best be used by your family.
– Group plants with similar needs together (water, light) and separate by irrigation zone.
– Use native, drought-tolerant plants whenever possible.
– Buy local products to enhance soils and use mulches to hold in water and nutrients.
– Check for system leaks.
– Adjust irrigation clocks to reflect local weather conditions.
– Water early to reduce evaporative losses.
– Reach out to your local nursery and irrigation experts.
– Cash in on incentives for water conservation.

We can keep our landscapes beautiful while also promoting conservation. These strategies benefit not just you, but your neighbors next door and downstream, as well as the wildlife and aquatic communities around us.

Even though we are in a culture of overuse, we can change that for the better, and we are. Big Sky Water Conservation, coordinated by GRTF, helps conserve 1.2 million gallons a year through simple high-efficiency home upgrades. Each drop saved remains in the river.

To learn more about water conservation in Big Sky, visit

Emily Casey is the water conservation coordinator for the Gallatin River Task Force, a nonprofit that partners with our community to inspire stewardship of the Gallatin River.

Joseph T. O'Connor is the previous Editor-in-Chief for EBS newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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