Big Sky is working to improve its water and sewer systems.

The Big Sky County Water and Sewer District No. 363 — which includes the Meadow Village, Aspen Groves, Spanish Peaks and Lone Moose Meadows — is in the preliminary stage of a two-year, $30.5 million upgrade and expansion.

The district can only handle an additional 800 hookups before reaching its maximum capacity of 7,100 hookups. The district also has a maximum flow capacity of one million gallons per day, which it already reaches periodically, said general manager Ron Edwards. Expansion of the wastewater treatment plant will enable 10,700 hookups and treatment of up to 1.8 million gallons of wastewater per day.

All of the district’s treated wastewater is used for irrigation, so it must be stored in reservoirs over the winter and released in the summer. As the district produces more treated wastewater, there is concern about whether the existing reservoirs are large enough and whether there will be enough additional demand for irrigation to draw down the reservoirs in summer.

“What if it rains for a week, and we can’t discharge it to a golf course?” Edwards said.

The district is looking for additional ways to use treated wastewater, including snowmaking, groundwater recharge and release into the Gallatin River. These methods require upgrading the district’s wastewater treatment plant to meet Department of Environmental Quality standards for these disposal methods.

The district hopes to pay for the expansion and upgrade with money from a state revolving fund loan program. The district is also looking into requesting money from the Big Sky Resort Tax Board. If these two sources don’t pay for the project, the district may have to increase impact fees or ask voters to approve a 1% resort tax increase — which West Yellowstone did in last week’s election — to finance the project.

The area of Gallatin Canyon between the Big Horn Shopping Center and Corral Bar, Steakhouse & Motel is also grappling with growth.

The area has a large number of wells and septic tanks, which pose a threat to groundwater and the Gallatin River, said Kristin Gardner, executive director of the Gallatin River Task Force. The Gallatin Local Water Quality District’s monitoring in the area shows a recent uptick in groundwater nitrogen, which could reach the river and increase the likelihood of algae blooms.

The Gallatin River Task Force is conducting a $180,000 study to determine how to improve water and wastewater service in the canyon. The study will outline the feasibility, cost and environmental impact of several options, including building a wastewater treatment plant and sewer collection system in the canyon, pumping canyon sewage to the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District’s plant for treatment and creating connected, shared septic tanks.

A draft of the study will be available for public comment in February, and the final study will be released in March.

The task force is also urging Gallatin Canyon residents to form a water and sewer district. Without creating a district, it would be challenging to move forward with any of the options detailed in the study, Gardner said.

Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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