DEQ fines Yellowstone Club over spill

Montana’s state environmental agency levied a $256,700 fine on the Yellowstone Club today to compensate for last spring’s treated wastewater spill.

Learning to fish on the Gallatin River. (Photo courtesy Dave Pecunies Media.)

Learning to fish on the Gallatin River. (Photo courtesy Dave Pecunies Media.)

Details on the fine, from the Bozeman Chronicle:

The total fine calculated for the spill was $256,700. DEQ and the Yellowstone Club struck an agreement in which the club would pay in cash 25 percent of that fine — $64,175 — and $29,564 to reimburse the state for the time it spent responding to the spill. DEQ officials said the club paid those two portions with a $93,739 check.
The order said that to make up for the rest of the fine — $192,525 — the club agreed to complete projects that help improve or safeguard water quality in the area worth one-and-a-half times the remaining value. That comes to $288,788.

We’re pleased that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality is doing its job by levying this fine, and that nearly $300,000 will go towards improving the Gallatin River rather than to a general fund in Helena.

GYC pushed for this money to go directly towards making things right on the Gallatin, encouraging the Yellowstone Club since the spill last March to fund on-the-ground work on the Gallatin with whatever money they’d have to pay out in fines.

Our leadership here and our work with partners on the ground will do the following for the Gallatin starting next year:

·        Planting willows along the banks of the West Fork, and using logs and rocks to stabilize the banks where last year’s spill scoured a hillside and muddied the river.

·        Making the Gallatin’s main stem cleaner by upgrading as many as five business’s septic tanks in Gallatin canyon.  

We were lucky last spring. When ice damaged a water treatment storage pond and spilled the equivalent of 58 Olympic-sized swimming pools of treated wastewater into the Gallatin River, we weren’t dealing with raw sewage. The treated wastewater spill wasn’t toxic to humans. And it didn’t kill fish.

But this was our wake-up call. The status quo at Big Sky – counting on these storage ponds as more and more people ski here, bike and hike here, and move here – simply isn’t acceptable anymore. Yes, they use water from these ponds to water the golf courses in summer, but that also means that this stuff ends up in the Gallatin anyway. And the Gallatin is already suffering.

We need to fix this. We all need clean water in the 21st century.

That’s why GYC is part of the Big Sky Sustainable Water Solutions Forum, which brings together business owners, anglers, rafters, and farmers and ranchers to figure out a better solution than Big Sky’s risky holding ponds. It’s early days, so the group hasn’t rallied around one option or one proposal. And GYC has a caveat for being part of this group: Whatever option the group decides on has to be what’s called a “no degradation” option – which means clean water for fishing, irrigating and drinking, and cold water to keep trout thriving.

So if you care about fishing the Gallatin, rafting House Rock, irrigating your fields with Gallatin water, or just enjoying cold, clean water, join us. The next stakeholder meeting is Sept. 21.

-- Bob Zimmer, Waters Program Coordinator