What does this pond do and where does the treated water come from?
The reclaimed water pond is part of the overall water and sewer system for the Big Sky Water and Sewer District and the Yellowstone Club Sewer treatment plant. It stores reclaimed treated water from these two systems. Ninety percent (90%) of the water in the pond comes from the Big Sky Water and Sewer District and ten percent (10%) comes from Yellowstone Club’s sewer treatment plant. Storage is accumulated and held throughout the year for irrigation use over the summer. More specifically, the reclaimed water is used to irrigate Yellowstone Club’s golf course in an environmentally beneficial way.
How long has the pond been there?
The reclamation pond was constructed in 2005. The pond and its related piping were built to the plans and specifications engineered and approved by the MDEQ. The pond was certified by engineers upon completion.
Is this the first time an incident like this has happened?
Like all reclamation ponds, we have experienced small, routine problems in the past which were addressed by professionals. This is the first time any reclaimed water from the pond has flowed into open waters. The pond is regularly monitored, which is why this problem was promptly discovered on March 3, 2016.
Has there been a leak from the pond since it was constructed?
There was a small leak in the pond in 2012, and Yellowstone Club worked with the MDEQ to plan an approved repair, and that repair was completed in 2014. Additionally, another small leak was identified in 2015 and that leak was repaired in 2015. We do not believe the 2012 and 2015 leaks are related to the current situation. In both of those cases, reclaimed water did not reach open water. The leaks were relatively minor.
What caused previous leaks?
Small tears and holes in the liner caused the previous leaks. The pond was inspected and small holes were repaired throughout. Small tears and holes are not uncommon for liners of this size. The MDEQ allows a certain amount of leakage from these types of ponds for this reason.
What steps were taken to fix those leaks?
In 2014 and 2015, the pond was drained, inspected, and all small holes and tears were repaired by professionals who specialize in pond liners.
Did that leak cause the spill on Thursday, March 3?
The previous maintenance issues do not appear to be related to the existing issue.
Who regulates this pond and how does Yellowstone Club comply with the regulations?
The MDEQ does not require annual bonding, inspection, or reporting of reclaimed water ponds. The owner is responsible to maintain this type of infrastructure. Yellowstone Club has a Montana licensed sewer operator as well as an environmental manager on staff full time to maintain the reclaimed water pond.
When was the pond last inspected?
The pond was inspected by an independent third party in September 2015.
Was Yellowstone Club in line with best industry practices on storing wastewater?
Yes, we are storing the wastewater for the beneficial irrigation of turf grass. The pond was approved, designed, and constructed by professionals. The maintenance of the pond is managed by Yellowstone Club’s sewer operator and environmental manager.
What caused the leak?
It is evident that ice entrapped the outlet pipe of the pond causing it to pull upward. The upward pulling force caused a tear in the liner and damaged the outlet pipe, which allowed the water to escape through a steel pipe “carrying” sleeve in the embankment of the pond. Due to the nature and severity of the damage, the flow could not simply be turned off.
How and when was this incident discovered?
One of our snowplow drivers was working on a road across the valley and noticed the runoff and reported it to our environmental manager immediately. This was around 9:00 AM on March 3, 2016.
How much water has leaked?
We estimate that approximately 29 million gallons or reclaimed water leaked out of the pond. We were successful in diverting approximately 6 million gallons to a golf course irrigation pond which prevented those 6 million gallons from entering open water.
Is the water that leaked out of the pond safe?
The water was completely treated and fully processed for irrigation on our golf course. The water does not have any sludge component or solids that are traditionally associated with sewage. The water is reclaimed and is not sewage. The brown color of the water in lower river sections came from the soil sediment being picked up by the water as it flowed over land and downhill to Second Yellow Mule Creek. The water in the pond was clean.
Was this incident reported and to whom?
Yellowstone Club immediately reported the breach/leak to the MDEQ. Immediately after we contacted the MDEQ, we contacted the Big Sky Water and Sewer District and the Gallatin River Task Force.
Is the leak contained?
Yes. As of 4 AM on March 7, water stopped flowing out of the pond.
Why didn’t you stop the leak to the pond?
Due to safety concerns, we could not implement any direct attempts to stop the leak. There was a large amount of turbulent water discharge and saturated soils at the outlet point of the pond that made it impossible to approach. Because of the suction created by the escaping water, there was a safety concern about approaching the leak or attempting any repair in the pond.
How and what is involved in clean-up?
We will partner with the MDEQ, environmental engineers, and civil engineers to come up with the best plan for remediation. The water is not an environmental human contact hazard.
How will this impact the local environment/community?
There is no human risk, but we are taking this situation very seriously and are working with authorities to understand any possible risks to fish, wildlife, and rivers. We are committed to keeping our team and the local community updated. After we work with authorities and environmental scientists to evaluate how best to move forward, we will know more.
What is the risk to local residents or guests?
The water in the pond was treated and clean so there should be no risk to local residents or guests. For all testing results, please visit Gallatin River Task Force. Although we do not anticipate any issues with drinking water quality, we are advocating that people with wells downstream have their water tested. YC will pay for all well sampling lab fees in the area for the next 12 months. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to receive a free sampling kit.
How will this impact the local wildlife, river life?
Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks has toured the site and open waters to help understand the impact on the riparian area. Overall, they have a positive outlook that the pending spring runoff will be very beneficial to the cleanup effort. Ultimately, it is not yet determined if there are any negative impacts on local wildlife and river life.
What kind of water went into the Gallatin River?
The water was completely treated and ready for irrigation on Yellowstone Club’s golf course. The water did not have any sludge component or solids that are traditionally associated with sewage. The water was reclaimed water and not sewage. The brown color of the water that was in the connected tributaries came from the sediment being picked up by the water as it flowed over land.
What is Yellowstone Club doing to make sure this won’t happen again?
We are continuing to evaluate the best approach to the repair. We have submitted a plan to MDEQ and other stakeholders and are awaiting feedback and input. They were onsite with us on March 9, 2016. We are hopeful to start rebuilding the outlet structure on March 16th pending the MDEQ approval. The repair design has additional engineered features that will further minimize the risk of this occurrence in the future. The new design also incorporates several additional monitoring devices which will allow the operator to evaluate the performance of the pond easier.
What local environmental authorities are you working with to make sure our water is safe?
We are working with the MDEQ daily to ensure that the waterways are on a rigid testing protocol. This will be done until the waters are benchmarked back to pre-incident quality.
How can I be sure that the water I’m drinking is safe?
Since the adjacent waterways are not used as a potable water source, the only real potential for drinking water contamination may come from adjacent ground water wells. Although we don’t anticipate any issues with drinking water quality, we are advocating that people with wells downstream have their water tested. If well owners need well testing kits, please email email@example.com and someone will be in touch. Yellowstone Club will pay for all well sampling lab fees in the area for the next 12 months.
Is Yellowstone Club altering its operation procedures as a result of this?
At this point, we believe the leak was caused by an abnormal temperature fluctuation and corresponding ice build-up. We are moving forward with recommendations by the MDEQ and the civil engineers who are currently working with us. The repair drawings will incorporate additional monitoring devices that will provide the ability to monitor the pond on a continuous basis.
What are the next steps Yellowstone Club is taking to handle current wastewater?
To remedy the current situation, we are transporting our treated water to Big Sky Water & Sewer District ponds via licensed septic haulers.
Is Yellowstone Club paying for the clean-up?
Yellowstone Club is committed to addressing any environmental impacts that are created from this pond leak.
How is Yellowstone Club coordinating with government authorities or state environmental bodies?
The MDEQ has been very helpful with public outreach and providing monitoring plans. We are in communication daily and they have responded to all of our needs. We participated in a town hall meeting on Friday, March 4, 2016 at the Big Sky Fire Department with representatives from the MDEQ, Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks, and Big Sky Sewer and Water District to discuss this incident with the public, along with Gallatin and Madison County Commissioners to answer all questions that were raised during that meeting. Representatives from YC also attended a board meeting at the Big Sky Water and Sewer District on Wednesday, March 9, 2016, to discuss the leak and share updates. Our goal is to ensure the community feels updated and informed about the issue. We welcome questions to our email address (firstname.lastname@example.org).