The Yellowstone Club, a private ski area in Montana frequented by the likes of Bill Gates and Tom Brady, has applied for a permit to use treated wastewater from local municipalities to make snow. While the practice of utilizing treated wastewater on golf courses and ball fields is commonplace throughout water scarce regions of the United States, The Yellowstone Club will only be the second ski area in the country to adopt the practice for snowmaking.
The Bozeman Daily Chronical reports that advocates for the plan state that “snowmaking will create a reliable 18-inch snow base over the 55 skiable acres on the mountain.” They cite a decade running pilot study conducted by a third party organization, the Gallatin River Task Force, arguing that using the treated wastewater for snowmaking is preferable to direct discharge into the Gallatin River:
“Studies indicate the snowmaking process itself adds an additional layer of treatment to wastewater… As snow melts off throughout the year, vegetation takes up nutrients in the water. (Meaning that snow-) melt going into the watershed will have lower concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorus and certain bacteria.”
In addition to The Yellowstone Club, supporters include Trout Unlimited, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the Association of Gallatin Agriculture Irrigators, Big Sky Resort, Big Sky County Water and Sewer District, the Lone Mountain Land Company, and Spanish Peaks Resort.
Despite the substantial support for this project, the practice of making snow from treated wastewater is controversial. In recent history the Arizona Snowbowl fought a 10+ year legal battle that grazed the Supreme Court for the right to utilize treated wastewater for snowmaking. A coalition of 13 American Indian tribes and several environmental groups including the Sierra Club opposed the plan arguing on behalf of the desecration of sacred lands and potential negative environmental impacts. The 777 skiable acres of the Arizona Snowbowl are situated on the San Francisco Peaks (known as Dookʼoʼoosłííd to the Navajo and Nuva’tukya’ovi to the Hopi tribes) and hold significant spiritual value for the tribes. The concerned environmental groups cite studies that link the feminization of fish and amphibian populations to pharmaceuticals found in waterways downstream of municipal wastewater treatment operations.
The Yellowstone Club doesn’t have to contend with the religious concerns of local tribes and the verdict of the Snowbowl case will lend favorably toward the environmental arguments on behalf of the practice. While snow made from treated wastewater looks and rides the same as any other man-made snow, we hope that the opportunity to apply the satirical (unofficial) nickname “The Yellowsnow Club” is not lost.
Images from Yellowstone Club IG