The Yellowstone Club, a private ski club in Montana, will be the first ski resort in the state to implement the controversial practice. Proponents for the project include several environmental groups including the Gallatin River Task Force and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. Supporters argue that the wastewater is treated and disinfected making it safe for use in this recreational application. They also want this water to be used for snowmaking to bolster local stream flow and anticipate that the process will effectively reduce the amount of nutrients that end up reaching the Gallatin River. The Yellowstone Club already utilizes treated wastewater to irrigate their summertime golf operations. The new permit would approve the club to use up to 25 million gallons of the treated wastewater for wintertime snowmaking operations. The Bozeman Daily Chronical reports that 80% of the treated wastewater used would come from the nearby Big Sky County Water and Sewer District while 20% would some from the Yellowstone Clubs own wastewater treatment plant.
The general knee jerk reaction to the notion that sewage is being utilized so extensively and so publicly is always… unpleasant. Opponents of the practice cite studies that link hormones in treated wastewater to the feminization of fish and amphibians in waterways below treated wastewater discharge. Many are skeptical of the claim that the practice will ultimately reduce the amount of wastewater nutrients that reach the Gallatin River.
While controversial, the use of treated wastewater will likely become much more commonplace in the water scarce Western United States in the near future. When the Yellowstone Club finishes the project it will join the ranks of 12 other ski areas that have utilized treated wastewater to make snow. Jon Kenning, the DEQ water protection bureau chief, stated in a news release, “it has the potential to provide increased protection for streams while also providing a necessary function for the Yellowstone Club.”