Water and sewer district hosts Community Week tours giving the inside scoop on the future of wastewater management in Big Sky
By Jen Clancey DIGITAL PRODUCER
On Wednesday, Oct. 4, the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District hosted a tour of the in-progress Wastewater Resource Recovery Facility. In collaboration with Big Sky Community Week, the district held three walking tours through the $50 million facility, showing new filtration systems, basins and control rooms.
The new WRRF, expected to open fully in October 2024, will increase daily treatment capacity from 600,000 gallons per day to about 910,000 gallons per day. Big Sky’s wastewater will be treated to the quality standards of Montana DEQ Class A-1, allowing it to be used for irrigation, groundwater discharge and snowmaking.
“More capacity can accommodate more flow, more growth,” Ron Edwards, general manager of Big Sky’s water and sewer district, said about what the plant means for Big Sky’s future. He said WRRF construction started in the middle of 2020.
“We’re getting into snowmaking, so the plan is to start making snow in Yellowstone Club this winter with the goal of 25 million gallons of treated water used for snowmaking,” Edwards said. “So it’s kind of a big new chapter for the Big Sky area.”
That man-made snow is not just for fun—it’s intended to deepen the snowpack and prolong the late-summer life of aquifers charged by snowmelt. The process has been implemented in other parts of the country since becoming legal in 2012.
Process engineer Zach Frieling with contractor AE2S led Wednesday’s 1 p.m. tour through the facility, which began in the preliminary treatment area. In that space, all trash and grit will be removed from the water through filtering, Frieling explained. In the secondary treatment area, the water will flow to aeration tanks where warm air is added to activate organic, material-hungry bacteria.
That bacteria will consume the remaining organic material in the water. Then, the bacteria is filtered out of the water through tiny membrane filters, where it will be reused again in new organic material-ridden water.
Edwards noted that the membrane filters allow for better treatment through any kind of weather. Known as Membrane Bioreactors or MBR plants for short, there are hundreds in the country using the filtration technology that relies on biological reactions and filtration systems to further clarify water.
“What it does is it gets us consistently better treatment year-round,” Edwards said.
Frieling commented on what the new facility and technologies means for operators, explaining that although some processes are automated, operators still make sure everything runs efficiently. “Operators are the heart and soul of this plant for sure,” Frieling said.
An advancement for the community, by the community
More than half of the facility’s funding came from a community vote in 2020 to add an additional “1% for infrastructure” resort tax.
“The community voted to increase the resort tax from 3% to 4%,” Edwards said. “That additional 1% has been earmarked to help pay for the plants so [resort tax] contributions are going to be $27 million towards a $50 million project,” Edwards said. He said without the dedicated infrastructure tax, the water and sewer district may not have been able to increase Big Sky’s water treatment capacity and quality to the same extent.
Edwards hopes to continue connecting with the community through education and tours of the WRRF.