PHOTO COURTESY JIM MUSCAT

Water woes

Cascade Wells did not survive the test of time

On the world stage, water is becoming an increasingly valuable player. 

It is back to the drawing board for finding water on the mountain for Big Sky County Water and Sewer District (BSCWSD). 

“With rapid growth occurring in Big Sky these days there has been a lot of press about the current capacity of the sewer system keeping pace. The BSCWSD faces that same or possibly an even greater challenge with the drinking water supply keeping up with that same growth,”  BSCWSD water superintendent Jim Muscat said. 

In an attempt to stay ahead of the demand the District contracted with an engineering firm this past summer to identify potential sites for new water supply on the mountain, and to drill test wells to determine potential yield and feasibility. 

Searching for water is a lot like searching for oil, according to Muscat. 

“You use your best science and then you cross your fingers and you drill a hole,” he said. “The real test [when drilling a well] is will it sustain water production over time.” 

The two recent exploratory test wells drilled on the mountain failed that test. 

He said that if these wells were for a single residence they would work fine, but the volume is not there to make them a municipal water supply. 

The search begins anew for a location that would allow for the kind of water production needed for a municipal well. 

“The water side is getting tight. We took a real hit recently with the existing two Cascade Wells which have not been online but were always intended to serve our growing demand,” he said. 

In the late 1990s, the district accepted the Cascade Wells that were built and developed by Lone Mountain Springs, the water company that was basically owned by Big Sky Resort before it became a district, Muscat explained. 

He explained that the initial pump tests in the 1990s showed very productive wells but water that was high in H2S (Hydrogen Sulphide) – although not harmful, it causes a rotten egg odor and requires treatment.  

“The District recently initiated a pilot study to determine the best treatment process to remove the H2s from the two Cascade wells last year in anticipation of soon needing to bring these two wells into service,” he said. “In the course of that pilot study a long-term pumping test was also conducted and unfortunately it was revealed that these two wells although big producers initially drop off drastically in production when they are put to full time use.” 

As a result, it is crunch time for finding water and doing so is a priority for BSCWSD. 

Muscat explained that engineer Mark Cunnane from Western Groundwater Services is still analyzing the data from the two test wells recently drilled and won't have a full report for the district until January.

“At that time, he will make recommendations as to what the next best step will be in our pursuit of additional water supply for the upper Mountain Village,” he said. “Unfortunately, it looks like the two test wells we did this year did not produce enough water to warrant making them a public supply well, so we need to keep looking.”

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