Big Sky Water & Sewer District monthly meeting

Lawsuit expenses total $640,000, SFE rate increase for workforce housing and projected water deficit revisited

Conversations at the Big Sky Water and Sewer District’s (BSWSD) three-hour board meeting on Tuesday morning, Nov. 16, focused on legal expenses from the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center (CELC) 2020 lawsuit, a proposed SFE rate increase for workforce housing projects, well exploration and production, and projected water deficits for the community.


Bozeman based Cottonwood Environmental Law Center (CELC) sued BSWSD for violation of the Clean Water Act in 2020. The lawyer and founder of CELC, John Meyer, alleged that BSWSD, “discharged treated sewage illegally into the West Fork of the Gallatin River without a discharge permit in July, 2020.” 

CELC asked a federal court to bar BSWSD from adding any new sewer connections to the district in the 2020 lawsuit because they believe the holding ponds and golf course leaked wastewater into the Gallatin River.

The BSWSD ran into a similar problem back in the 1990s. According to a report from 1993, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) found BSWSD leaked 47 million gallons of wastewater into state groundwaters in 1991. In response, the DEQ placed a moratorium on building in Big Sky. The CELC lawsuit hopes to do something similar in 2021.

At the meeting on Tuesday morning, the board explained how the ongoing legal expenses from the two-year long case with CELC have cost BSWSD $640,000 and depleted the operating reserves for the district. CELC recently issued the Yellowstone Club a similar 60-day intent to sue for violation of the Clean Water Act in the South Fork of the Gallatin River in Sept. 2021.


BSWSD General Manager, Ron Edwards, and BSWSD Board President, Tom Reeves, revisited a proposal from last month to increase the rate of workforce housing projects from 1 SFE / 1000 square feet to 1.20 SFE / 1,000 square feet. The board recommended a rate increase for all future workforce housing projects including condos, apartments, and alternative dwelling units because of higher water usage.

Big Sky Resort Area District executive director, Daniel Bierschwale, expressed concern during the meeting for how the proposed SFE rate increase— from 1 SFE to 1.2 SFE—would impact workforce housing projects that were in progress.

Bierschwale hoped the BSWSD board would either write in an exception or make an adjustment to accommodate for the rate increase because it impacts the bottom line. Workforce housing projects were guaranteed 500 SFEs with the building of the new water and treatment facility.

“The Riverview Housing is seeking 100 SFEs. What would have been 100… now all the sudden is a different equation,” Bierschwale explained. These recommendations from BSWSD, although not finalized, will be revisited in the coming months.


Mark Cunnane, the environmental consultant and engineer from Western Groundwater Services who is helping BSWSD with well exploration, presented a report on the five test wells currently under construction.

Test well number eight is looking the most promising according to Cunnane. The hole produced quite a good flow with static water sitting three feet below ground. This well will need around $500,000 dollars to complete and could produce artesian flow.

There could be a chance for future development in test wells two and seven which sit close by to test well eight. However, they have poorer water quality. Test wells six and nine are more difficult and costly to develop due to location and they may need chlorine for water treatment. WATER DEFICIT


According to a six-year-old study shown by Mark Cunnane (Figure 1), the BSWSD is scheduled to run out of water for the Mountain area by 2021 and the Meadow area by 2023 if the highest producing well fails. The study has not been updated since 2015, explained Board President Tom Reeve.

“This is one of the critical questions that has to be considered and we are not considering it,” board member Will Shropshire said. Reeves agreed. “We’ve got to redouble our efforts on finding water on the mountain. I think we need to redo the 2015 research on our capacities and our needs,” said Reeves.

General Manager Ron Edwards attempted to show the situation in a different light. He pointed to Figure 2 titled, “Well System Production,” which includes all well production and demonstrates how the Meadow and Mountain Village wells have been stable.

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