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Voters to decide about funding for new wastewater infrastructure

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By Doug Hare EBS STAFF

BIG SKY ‒ Earlier this month, the Big Sky Resort Area District Tax Board approved putting the following usage of the 1 percent resort tax proposal before the registered voters of the district in May:

“…60 percent of project costs, up to a maximum of $27 million, towards construction of an expansion and upgrade to the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District (BSCWSD) Water Resource Recovery Facility (WRRF).”

The potential funding would address future shortcomings of the existing WRRF, upping average day-rated treatment capacity from 600,000 gallons to 910,000 gallons. The upgrade would also be conditioned by the BSCWSD’s commitment to facilitate 500 additional Single Family Equivalents in a bid to address ongoing workforce housing shortages. The proposal continues:

“…100 percent of project costs, up to $12 million, towards construction of a wastewater lift station and forcemain to convey wastewater from a future Canyon Area Sewer District to the WRRF, along with a treated water pipeline from the WRRF back to the Canyon Area for reuse and potential groundwater discharge and/or aquifer recharge.”

This tentative Canyon Area project would only be funded if a Canyon Area Sewer District were to form and request an agreement with the BSCWSD to take wastewater from the Canyon. BSCWSD agreed to own and operate the future Canyon Area lift station and pipelines.

According to the BSCWSD’s website, taking raw wastewater from the Canyon Area, treating it to Class A-1 standards, and returning it to the Canyon Area for reuse and potential groundwater discharge/recharge would be a significant improvement for the Gallatin River watershed over the current situation, where they estimate 100,000 gallons per day of Gallatin County-approved septic tank effluent and Montana Department of Environmental Quality approved Level II treatment system effluent is being discharged into the groundwater.

Treated water from BSCWSD’s speculative WRRF Upgrade will result in approximately 99 percent less bacteria, 90 percent less nitrogen, and 90 percent less phosphorus entering the groundwater in the Canyon Area, according to project documents.

BSCWSD General Manager Ron Edwards said this project would be a net benefit to the environment and would not alter zoning or land use that has been previously permitted by Gallatin County. Land use, zoning and resulting development density can only be changed by Gallatin County officials. Edwards also noted that the availability of water and water rights in the Canyon Area will ultimately limit growth, a constraint that will prevent the area from significant densification.

Representatives from local conservation groups, including the Gallatin River Task Force and the Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, Inc., have expressed concerns about the Canyon Area project as putting the cart before the horse, demanding that more caution and due diligence must be done before giving the project the green light.

Pete Manka, board member of the BSCWD, takes those concerns to heart. “There are so many contingencies before the Canyon Area project comes to fruition,” Manka said in a phone interview. “We are really just playing the cards we are dealt to try and find the most environmentally sound decision for Big Sky and the Gallatin River. We will be working with conservation groups along the way to assuage fears that this project would be detrimental to our local river. ”

Visit the BSCWSD website at bigskywatersewer.com to read more.

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