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The Big Sky County Water and Sewer District hopes to build a million-gallon water tank on Crazy Horse Road, but negotiations continue around details including an easement to be used to build a water line to the tank. ADOBE STOCK PHOTO

Yellowstone Club proposes snowmaking as treated wastewater storage, BSOA continues to negotiate on pond project and water tank 


Now under review: Twenty-six million gallons of treated wastewater and a million gallons of drinking water. 

The Big Sky County Water and Sewer District held its regular board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 15. The board discussed a request from the Yellowstone Club to amend the terms of a 2001 agreement that mandated the construction of storage ponds for 130 million gallons of treated wastewater. In addition, dissonance continues between the district and the Big Sky Owners Association—in recent months, both parties have swapped legal drafts to outline and protect their interests in an agreement which could allow for both the construction of a million-gallon community drinking water tank and the renovation of the Little Coyote Pond.  

A lawsuit against the Yellowstone Club to prevent the club from using treated wastewater for snowmaking was recently dismissed by the 18th Judicial District Court of Gallatin County. The decision allows the YC to carry on with plans to begin making snow using recycling wastewater this coming winter.  

The process has been adopted by numerous ski resorts in the U.S., Canada, Switzerland and Australia, according to a July press release from Lone Mountain Land Company. The club received a permit to make snow with recycled water in 2021.  

In a June 27 letter to GM Ron Edwards, YC Director of Environmental Operations Rich Chandler requested that this new form of man-made snow be counted toward the total amount of treated wastewater being stored on club property.

According to a 2001 agreement—between the water and sewer district and developers including the Yellowstone Club—developers are required to construct lined ponds for the storage of 130 million gallons of treated wastewater on the developers’ property. The Yellowstone Club was also required to build storage for 20.2 million gallons of treated wastewater for its own use.  

Of the 150.2 million gallons needed in total treated wastewater storage, the YC is 23.7 million gallons shy of meeting that requirement. Chandler’s letter suggested that the club “use the mountain terrain as storage of treated wastewater” to reach that total.   

Chandler listed benefits: snowmaking requires more stringent water testing than irrigation from storage ponds; increased snowpack depth supports aquifer recharge and keeps moisture in the mountains during fire season; snowmaking provides flexibility in case of pond repairs and avoids the risk of a pond breach.  

“All references to the District’s right to store treated wastewater in storage ponds on Developer’s [sic] land shall be interpreted to include the right to store treated wastewater with Developer’s creation of snow from the District’s treated wastewater,” the letter states, asserting that the storage of treated wastewater in ponds is “comparable” to the storage of treated wastewater in the snowmaking process.  

Edwards told EBS that the board came to consensus at the Aug. 15 meeting, agreeing to create a legal “tolling agreement” to give both parties more time to reach an effective solution. The agreement will likely require a five-year period to study the impact of this new snowmaking process.  

“Our problem is that we don’t have any real history with [reclaimed snowmaking] yet,” Edwards told EBS in a phone call. “They need to give us some performance history with the snowmaking to demonstrate that it’s going to work.” 

Edwards said there will be more to come on this topic. For now, he said the tolling agreement creates a win-win for both parties.  

Little Coyote Pond awaits agreement 

This fall, the Big Sky Owners Association plans to renovate the Little Coyote Pond and restore the West Fork of the Gallatin River. However, the work cannot begin until a monthslong process to secure water rights from the district is resolved.  

Although a light seemed to shine at the end of the tunnel during the district’s May meeting, negotiations are ongoing.  

“That pond agreement has been back and forth,” Edwards told EBS. “They sent us a redlined version Friday evening before the meeting at about five o’clock. It was in the board packet, but nobody really had any time to react.” 

District board member Dick Fast, who leads the district’s BSOA pond subcommittee, said at the Aug. 15 meeting that there’s a few sticking points in the legal document that the district still needs to work through.  

In order for the district to transfer the fishery water rights to the BSOA for its pond project, the district hopes that BSOA will agree to confirm an easement along Crazy Horse Road for construction of an underground water line to a million-gallon water tank to be built on land owned by the district.  

Edwards said the BSOA is still clarifying legal terms on the staging area around the proposed tank, the tank height and a potential agreement to dismantle an existing tank nearby—the agreement might mandate the district to deconstruct that 1970-built tank if it ever becomes inactive for four consecutive years.  

Photographed in April, the existing water tank was built in 1970 and holds 250,000 gallons. District officials are hesitant to agree to dismantle the tank in case it continues to be used. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

A BSOA covenant will also need to be amended to allow the water line easement. Edwards said it’s now up for vote among BSOA members living in the Sweetgrass Hills subdivision.  

“That needs to pass,” Edwards told EBS of the amendment.  

“[The water tank] sets us up for more storage for domestic demand and firefighting demand,” he explained. “We look at it as just a great community project, and we’re hopeful that the Sweetgrass owners see it that way.” 

This ballot item is only available to owners in the Sweetgrass Hills subdivision. COURTESY OF BSCWSD

In a letter to the board, district Water Superintendent Jim Muscat wrote that the Sweetgrass Hills Owners Association held a meeting at BASE in early August to discuss the proposed amendment. BSOA Executive Director Suzan Scott facilitated the meeting.  

“[Suzan] did a great job of explaining the proposed changes and the questions and comments I fielded were all very positive,” Muscat wrote to the board.  

Edwards added that it’s rare that a community is able to proactively build an upgraded water tank while an existing tank remains in service. The construction of a new tank would not interrupt water service to the BSOA membership, Edwards said. 

Water and sewer district tax relief 

Edwards added a positive note from the district: In June, the district shared a restructuring of water and sewer fees including a 15% rate increase. Despite that rate increase, officials expected community members to pay less overall next year due to significantly lower taxes following the full repayment of a two-decade general obligation bond.  

With recent property appraisals that significantly increased many property values, the mill rate for local government services—including the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District—is set to decrease proportionally.  

Last year, the district levied 35.95 mills, Edwards told EBS. This coming tax cycle, the district is levying 4.75 mills. That’s about half of the district’s estimated mill rate from before the release of property appraisals. 

Despite the 15% rate increase for services used, district taxpayers can expect to spend less on water and sewer this year as taxes drop more than seven-fold.  

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