Environmental groups challenge DEQ over Big Sky development water pollution permit

The groups argue the development’s water waste system would increase pollution in the Gallatin River

By: - July 20, 2021 4:17 pm

An 850-gallon septic tank ready for installation (Photo by Wikimedia Commons | CC-BY-SA 4.0)

Two environmental groups are suing Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality for allegedly ignoring lawful protocols in approving a groundwater system for a new development in Big Sky that could degrade water quality in the Gallatin River.

The Upper Missouri Waterkeeper and the Montana Environmental Information Center allege the department violated the Montana Water Quality Act and the Montana Environmental Policy Act by not entirely considering the impacts of the approved septic system for the Lazy J South development, which they said does not adequately remove harmful chemicals like nitrate, from the wastewater.

The uptick of wastewater from the new development will lead to increased sewage pollution on surface water and compound the algal bloom problem already harming the river, the groups said.

“The Montana DEQ is asleep at the switch when it comes to protecting our water from irresponsible subdivisions and poorly planned development,” said Derf Johnson, staff attorney with MEIC, in a press release from the groups announcing the lawsuit. “The permit in Big Sky is just emblematic of a much larger, statewide problem where DEQ is purposely ignoring the best science and common sense on water quality and cumulative impacts so that it can continue to issue permits. It’s wrong, and that’s why we took them to court.”

A DEQ spokesperson said the department is aware of the lawsuit but would not comment on active litigation.

The new development is a 212-acre suburb and commercial development a half-mile from the Gallatin River along Highway 191. Plans for the new space were conceived in 2006 but never came to fruition. When ownership for the development changed in 2020, DEQ used the same 2006 standards when approving the new wastewater discharge permit, the suit alleged.

Along with ignoring lawful procedures, the groups said issuing the permit ignores recent progress made by the community in establishing the Big Sky Canyon Sewer District. The new sewage district is designed to end degrading septic systems by offering better sewage treatment at centralized facilities.

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. Keith was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. He can be reached by text or call at 406-475-2954 .