In 2001, Yellowstone Club agreed to create a pond that would store reclaimed wastewater from the Yellowstone Mountain Club water treatment plant and the Big Sky Water and Sewer District #363 (“District”). Reclaimed water is former wastewater that is treated to remove impurities so the water can be reused for other purposes. The reclaimed water in the pond is stored by Yellowstone Club over the winter and then used to irrigate Yellowstone Club’s golf course in the summer. The pond provides a necessary storage area for the District and it provides a way for Yellowstone Club to irrigate with recycled water.
On Thursday, March 3, 2016, a Yellowstone Club team member identified damage to a water irrigation main located next to our reclaimed water storage pond that was causing water to leak from the pond. This pond is located above our golf course on the valley side toward Second Yellow Mule Creek.
As soon as this information was received, we moved swiftly to address the situation. We contacted the District, along with local and state environmental authorities including the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (“MDEQ”). The Big Sky Sheriff’s Department responded and confirmed that a flow of reclaimed water was entering surrounding streams, leading into Second Yellow Mule Creek and ultimately into the Gallatin River.
The reclaimed water that is flowing into the Second Yellow Mule drainage from the pond is picking up sediment due to overland flow and the steep land topography, thus causing sediment to enter into the drainage and connecting waterways, which makes the water cloudy. This is known as an increase in soil turbidity. The water coming from the pond had already been treated to a high level and satisfies the MDEQ’s human health standards for reuse. There are no potable inlets for consumption affected by this situation. No homes or properties are in harm’s way within or outside of Yellowstone Club as a result of the irrigation main break. Although the reclaimed water is safe, there is always a concern that the resulting soil turbidity could cause negative impacts on local wildlife and river life. Representatives from Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and the MDEQ are conducting tests of the waterways.
The pond contained approximately 35 million gallons of reclaimed water. Yellowstone Club was able to reduce the flow into Second Yellow Mule Creek by diverting approximately 6 million gallons from the leaking pond to a lower holding pond. Unfortunately, there is no other safe way to stop the leak so the remaining water will drain from the pond until the pond is empty.
Although we don’t anticipate any issues with drinking water quality, we are advocating that people with wells downstream have their water tested. The Gallatin River Taskforce is distributing free well sampling kits at the Big Sky Post Office on March 8th between 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM, and Yellowstone Club will pay for all well sampling lab fees in the area for the next 12 months.
It is our responsibility to ensure as little harm as possible to the environment and we are doing everything we can to mitigate this unfortunate situation. Crews from Bozeman and Big Sky continue to work to remedy the situation as soon as possible. We want to assure you and our surrounding communities we take this issue very seriously. We are taking steps to minimize any and all environmental impact and prevent any further issues.