Why a Posh Montana Ski Town May Use Treated Wastewater for Snowmaking

The ski town of Big Sky, Montana, is a modern-day Western boomtown. From little more than a post office in 1973, it has become one of the world’s most exclusive ski resorts. And not surprisingly, it has encountered some growing pains.

The biggest problem is water. Rapid growth in Big Sky threatens to deplete groundwater, the only source of drinking water for the community. A close second is wastewater treatment. The sewage system was expanded just 15 years ago at a cost of $15 million, but it’s already nearly at capacity. Another expansion will be needed soon.

The town also needs another outlet for its treated wastewater. Golf course irrigation has been able to absorb the whole load until now. But limits are approaching there, as well. The simple solution is to do what virtually every other community does: Discharge the treated wastewater into the nearest stream – in this case, the Gallatin River, which flows through town – and let gravity carry it away.