By Amanda Eggert EBS Staff Writer
BIG SKY – At a special meeting hosted by the Big Sky Water and Sewer District yesterday, Ron Edwards, BSWSD’s general manager, outlined the failure that led to the discharge of approximately 30 million gallons of treated effluent into the Gallatin River watershed, and discussed the repair timeline moving forward.
Approximately 30 people and a handful of BSWSD board members attended the meeting, which was held at the BSWSD conference room.
Edwards referenced photos posted on BSWSD’s webpage dedicated to the incident as he explained the failure of a 30-inch standpipe that exits the pond en route to Yellowstone Club’s golf course irrigation facility.
“Ice formed around that as the water filled up [and] totally severed [it],” Edwards said. “We speculated that was the problem at the [community] meeting on Friday and that’s what we found once the pond was drained.”
Edwards put a conference call through to Larry Alheim, Montana DEQ’s safety director. Alheim acted as the incident commander in the days following the spill and has since returned to Helena.
Alheim said that DEQ engineers have been working with engineers from Morrison-Maierle, a Bozeman-based firm contracted by the Yellowstone Club for the pond’s initial design. They are trying to figure out what happened, develop a solution to make the pond operational again, and determine if there was a design flaw in the old plan that needs to be corrected.
Mike DuCuennois, vice president of development at the Yellowstone Club, said he estimates the repair will take about six days, but that depends on how quickly the DEQ approves the new design. “We’re hoping to get some line-item approvals on some of this stuff today,” he said on March 9.
In the meantime, a septic hauler will continue transporting approximately 25,000 gallons per day of Yellowstone Club wastewater to a manhole in the BSWSD sewer main located in Spanish Peaks Mountain Club.
Grant Burroughs, BSWSD’s wastewater treatment specialist, said at that rate, there’s plenty of capacity in the Meadow Village sewer pond. It would not fill up until June 9, he said, adding that date did not account for outflow to the golf course for irrigation, which typically begins the first week of May.
Alheim said the DEQ is also working on a remediation plan to address the erosion created by effluent during its swift descent down the hillside. He said the site is difficult to work with right now because of snow and access issues.
DuCuennois said he’s concerned immediate efforts to repair erosion might do more harm than good since the site’s soil is still heavily saturated.
Water sample collection and testing is ongoing, Alheim said. Turbidity readings, which help the DEQ determine the amount of suspended sediment in the waterway, are available, but the DEQ is still waiting on other results from Energy Labs in Helena. They’re expecting results on E. coli, phosphorous, ammonia, pharmaceuticals, nitrate, nitrite and total nitrogen.
Data from the E. coli samples should be back from the lab today. The remaining data will be available in the next two weeks, according to an email to EBS from Kristi Ponozzo, the public policy director of Montana DEQ.
“Hopefully we’re going to have results soon [so] we can get it out to the public,” Alheim said. “We want to publish those results.”
Alheim added that a team would likely be back in the area to take samples during spring runoff. DEQ has considered installing remote sensors, he said, but they are expensive – in the $10,000 range – and he’s concerned that a high-flow event would flush them downstream.
On March 8, Kristin Gardner, executive director of Gallatin River Task Force, handed out well water test kits with Edwards at the Big Sky Post Office. She estimates handing out about 20 kits related to the incident and an additional 15 to other community members. The BSWSD also has test kits available for those who missed the March 8 event.
Edwards said DuCuennois set up an account at Bridger Analytics in Four Corners for the Yellowstone Club to handle payment for well water tests in the Big Sky area. He said those results would be sent to BSWSD as well as to DuCuennois or Rich Chandler, the Yellowstone Club’s environmental manager.
Edwards said he expects some tests will come back positive for coliform, a type of bacteria found in the feces of warm-blooded animals. “Anytime you do that much testing, you’re going to see that. Whether it’s related to this or not, that’s a different question.”
If coliform shows up in lab results, the lab will conduct an E. coli test and someone from BSWSD or GRTF will collect a second sample.
Edwards said BSWSD plans to hold another informational meeting for Big Sky community members unable to make the March 9 meeting. He has not set a date yet, but said it will probably occur on an evening toward the middle or end of next week.