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If the Gallatin River canyon were situated in the many less scenic parts of the United States, it would likely be designated a national park. Here, where breathtaking scenery and abundant wildlife are the norm, it is not afforded that recognition.

But that doesn’t make the canyon less valuable an asset and deserving of thorough protection from damage stemming from land-use development. And that’s why it’s imperative we heed the signs the river is being damaged – specifically the extreme algae bloom that threatens the river this summer.

The bloom covers some 23 miles of the Gallatin and its tributaries, the Taylor and West forks. The bloom is depleting oxygen in the water and changing the species of insects that live there – insects that support the river’s fish populations. This is a new thing, and we need to find ways to keep it from happening regularly.

There are multiple causes for the algae threat: warmer temperatures, long sunny stretches. But the biggest culprit is the effluent coming from the Big Sky sewage system and the proliferation of sceptic tanks along the river that are leaking too many nutrients into the river.

Big Sky residents recently approved upgrades to their sewer system. But will it be sufficient to handle the onslaught of new development expected there in coming years? And how many more septic systems can be installed along the river before algae blooms become a regular thing?

The situation calls for action at the county and state level to control the extent of development in the area and to mandate measures that will keep effluent out of the river. Water quality must become a prime concern when approving new subdivisions and granting construction permits close to the river.

Locals flock to the canyon for recreation. And visitors from all over the nation and the world come here to experience the extraordinary rafting and fishing opportunities offered by the Gallatin Canyon, making it an important regional economic factor.

We can’t stand by and watch this important resource deteriorate. The algae bloom must serve as a call to action now – before it’s too late.

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Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.