Big Sky water plan a good start for Montana’s Gallatin River

Great news! After 18 months of work, we and our 35+ partners in and around the Montana resort town of Big Sky are celebrating the release of a plan that will make sure the Gallatin River and area streams stay cold and get cleaner. And GYC is looking forward to our group’s next step: a binding agreement.

Big Sky waters we're working to keep cold and clean: Upper Jack Creek in Montana's Madison Range. (Photo GYC.)

Big Sky waters we're working to keep cold and clean: Upper Jack Creek in Montana's Madison Range. (Photo GYC.)

The Big Sky Area Sustainable Watershed Stewardship Plan released this week was the result of a broad group of Big Sky people who pulled together to agree on a number of recommendations for the watershed for the next 10 years.

What does this agreement do? It foresees developing new alternatives for re-using wastewater, like making snow. And we all agreed that the resort golf course managers would this year begin tracking the amount of water used via their automatic sprinklers, and the managers are on track to start a weekly working group that will manage watering the courses based on the weather forecast. And finally, we’re all recommending more monitoring of water quality and quantity, so that we can all make better decisions for cleaner water and healthy fish.

As I drove up Gallatin Canyon this week, I was reminded of why now is the time for all of us to start fixing this together. I’m routinely seeing lines of vehicles going in both directions on Highway 191. And we all know that Big Sky generates enough waste water in a normal year to fill two Bobcat Stadiums. This year, however, isn’t a normal year. The Big Sky area’s snowpack this year is more than 130 percent of normal, which is bringing record numbers of winter visitors. Big Sky Resort alone, for example, saw 15 percent more skiers this holiday break than last year. All this means more stress on the area’s treated wastewater ponds – they have to store more water, and they have to store it for a longer time than usual.

The Big Sky area (circled in pink here) has seen higher than normal snowfall this year. (Map courtesy of Natural Resources Conservation Service.)

The Big Sky area (circled in pink here) has seen higher than normal snowfall this year. (Map courtesy of Natural Resources Conservation Service.)

The watershed plan is a great start. But the pressures aren’t going away. GYC wants to see more than recommendations. We want an agreement with teeth. Turning these well-thought-out recommendations into a binding agreement will mean a cleaner, clearer, colder Gallatin River for us all – starting today.

-- Bob Zimmer, Waters Program Coordinator