Montana Ski Resorts to Turn Wastewater into Snow
"Rapid growth in Big Sky threatens to deplete groundwater, the only source of drinking water for the community," reports Matt Weiser. That growth also creates a problem for wastewater treatment. "The sewage system was expanded just 15 years ago at a cost of $15 million, but it's already nearly at capacity. Another expansion will be needed soon."
In looking for new ways to shed treated wastewater, Big Sky has decided not to pipe the water into the Gallatin River, like many municipalities around the country would do. This story is enabled by the political will of residents who want to protect the Gallatin River.
But the solution Big Sky has discovered is a new one: use the treated wastewater to make snow at local ski resorts. Currently, ski resorts use groundwater for snowmaking—reducing drinking water supply. "Switching to highly treated wastewater would help preserve that groundwater and also avoid wastewater discharge into the river," explains Weiser. The idea isn't totally new. Ski resorts in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Virginia, California, and Europe use treated wastewater for snowmaking. "Taking this step at an elite resort area like Big Sky, however, would mark a significant step in the trend," according to Weiser.