Early Thursday afternoon, March 3, 2016, a wastewater storage pond at Big Sky was reported to be spilling treated, reclaimed water into Second Yellow Mule Creek and then into the South Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River.
The highly treated reclaimed water does not pose a human health threat and the discharge is below human health standards.
The combined water is highly treated wastewater, and the expected total nitrogen content of about 7-8 mg/L is below the human health standard of 10 mg/L as nitrate. Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) is below 10 mg/L.
The discharge is estimated at 35 million gallons, based on the volume of the storage pond. About 4 to 5 feet of water will remain in the lined pond once it fully discharges.
The source of the break is under investigation. The outlet pipe flows to the Yellowstone Club golf course and irrigation of the turf grass is authorized in summer months. In winter this is an effluent storage pond. Most of the effluent comes from the Big Sky Sewer District, with a small portion coming from the wastewater treatment facility used at the Yellowstone Club.
Big Sky Water and Sewer has information on its website: http://www.bigskywatersewer.com/incident%20page.htm
Water Quality Act Violations Letter - April 13, 2016: /Portals/112/Water/WPB/MPDES/pdfs/spill_violationltr_2016.pdf
DEQ Sampling Plan: /Portals/112/Water/WPB/MPDES/pdfs/Updated%20SAP_Big_Sky_Spill.pdf
Water Quality Report - Part 1 March 17, 2016, Effects on Water Quality Standards for Human Health
Water Quality Report - Part 2 April 4, 2016, Effects on Aquatic Life
Water Quality Report - Part 3 April 25, Pharmaceuticals
Yellowstone Club Storage Pond Failure Report March 16, 2016, DEQ
DEQ Plan Approval Letter for Yellowstone Mountain Club Effluent Storage Pond; Plans; and Specifications
UPDATE: April 25, 2016 The Department of Environmental Quality issued the Pharmaceuticals Report today. This report is Part 3, and the final report, for water quality monitoring results associated with the March 3, 2016 wastewater spill into the Upper Gallatin River watershed. It can be found by linking to the Part Three Report listed above.
DEQ sampled and analyzed for 46 pharmaceutical chemicals and breakdown products. Of these, 18 were detected in the water spilling directly from the pond, while 11 were detected in the tributaries. There are no federal water quality criteria for pharmaceuticals, nor does Montana have any adopted pharmaceutical water quality standards. However Minnesota has several pharmaceutical water quality standards and a number of screening values, all for human health, and these were compared to concentrations DEQ measured during the spill. None of Minnesota’s values were exceeded; therefore, human health effects from any individual chemical tested in this study are unlikely. Pharmaceuticals may have detrimental impacts on aquatic life at very low concentrations. At least one chemical (carbamazepine) achieved levels in the tributaries which exceeded levels shown to affect an aquatic invertebrate in laboratory studies. However, there is much uncertainty regarding impacts to aquatic life via low-concentration pharmaceuticals, or combinations of pharmaceuticals, so DEQ’s ability to assess this impact is limited.
Most pharmaceuticals (about 75 percent) enter the aquatic environment via usage by individual people, whose waste is routed to wastewater treatment facilities and then a fraction (which varies by treatment level and chemical) of the pharmaceuticals are released in the treated wastewater to streams and rivers. Other sources include hospitals and disposal of expired or unwanted pharmaceuticals down the toilet. To prevent the latter, many communities offer take-back programs for expired/unwanted prescriptions; Bozeman has such a program (as do other Montana communities). Otherwise, it is advisable to dispose of unwanted pharmaceuticals in the trash where they can be better handled at a sanitary landfill, as they are carefully monitored and designed to handle chemical wastes.
DEQ also issued a violation letter to Yellowstone Mountain Club as a notification of violation of the Montana Water Quality Act. The violations include discharging without a permit and causing pollution specific to sediment and ammonia. This is one of the first steps of the enforcement action. The violation letter can be found at: http://deq.mt.gov/Water/WPB/mpdes/Gallatin-BigSkyWastewaterSpill
UPDATE: April 4, 2016 The Department of Environmental Quality and the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife & Parks have issued a technical report (Part 2) on the Effects on Aquatic Life of the Wastewater Spill into the Upper Gallatin River Watershed. It can be found by accessing the Water Quality Report -- Part 2 link above.
DEQ and FW&P monitored water quality and surveyed fish populations in the spill-affected area between March 5th and March 12th, 2016. An acute exceedance of Montana’s ammonia standards was documented on Second Yellow Mule Creek on March 5th. Further downstream, ammonia concentrations on March 5th were sequentially lower with increasing distance and dilution; there was no ammonia detected in the mainstem Gallatin River.
Turbidity exceeded Montana’s standards at all tributary sites for the entire study period (March 5th-12th), while in the mainstem Gallatin River turbidity exceeded the standard until March 9th. Concentrations were as high as 4,560 mg/L in the affected tributaries early on in the spill and, based on those concentrations, some degree of fish mortality was to be expected. On March 10th five dead westslope cutthroat trout were found in the South Fork West Fork Gallatin River downstream from the Second Yellow Mule Creek confluence. Further, electroshocking surveys showed that the fish population in the South Fork West Fork Gallatin River, upstream of the Second Yellow Mule Creek confluence, was similar to that found in 1999, but numbers just downstream of Second Yellow Mule Creek’s confluence were much lower.
Weekly to biweekly monitoring is ongoing in the affected tributaries and in the Gallatin River near the West Fork confluence. This includes total suspended solids (TSS) and turbidity, and nitrogen and phosphorus at targeted locations. In July 2016, DEQ will review the results and, depending upon the findings and any remedial actions that have occurred or are planned, decide if further water quality monitoring is necessary.
Part 3 of DEQ’s technical report will address measured levels of pharmaceuticals released during the spill. It will be available sometime the week of April 11 -- 17.
DEQ continues to work on an enforcement action associated with this incident.
For information specific to fisheries, please contact FW&P’s Ron Aasheim at 444-4028.
UPDATE: MARCH 18, 2016 DEQ has posted Part 1 of our Water Quality Monitoring report on this website.
DEQ began monitoring water quality in the spill affected area on March 5, 2016, and collected samples until March 12, 2016. The objective of this report (Part 1) is to address the effect of the spill on human health related water-quality standards. DEQ identified two human health parameters of concern at the onset of the spill; Escherichia coli (E. coli), and nitrate + nitrite (NO3 + NO2). No human health water quality standards were exceeded during the March 5th-7th period at any of DEQ’s ten sampling sites, nor in any samples collected after that time. Two additional parts of this report will be released in the coming weeks. Part 2 will address the spill’s effects on aquatic life and fisheries, Part 3 will address measured levels of pharmaceuticals released during the spill.
UPDATE: MARCH 15, 2016 DEQ has analytical results for the bacteria samples (Escherichia coli), collected on Monday, March 7 2016. There were no exceedances of the state’s water quality standards at any of DEQ’s ten sampling sites. The sites extended from the spill site downstream to the Gallatin River near Spanish Creek Road. The actual results for each site will be presented in a more detailed report that will be available later this week.
DEQ is compiling an incident report for the pond failure that will also be available sometime this week. We will be reviewing and approving the plans and specs for the repair, along with an operations and maintenance manual.
UPDATE: March 11, 2016 DEQ engineers were on-site Wednesday to inspect the failure. The prevalent theory is that ice forming around the standpipe screen, and then the water level rising and pulling the standpipe out of place, caused the failure in the pond. DEQ will be reviewing and approving formal plans for a remedy of this issue.
Turbidity on the Gallatin River returned to background by Wednesday March 9th, however the tributaries had not returned to background at that time. DEQ will be sampling the tributaries again on Saturday, March 12th.
DEQ will be receiving sampling data back from the lab during the next few weeks and will be posting the information to this site.
DEQ will also be working on an enforcement action for Water Quality Act violations for turbidity caused by this event, and other potential violations. An enforcement action is a multi-month process.
UPDATE: March 8, 2016 The turbidity has dropped drastically especially in Second Yellow Mule creek and South Fork of the West Fork of Gallatin which are the two surface waters closest to the pond. The sampling teams will continue sampling on Wednesday and Friday. Samples are at the lab, and have been expedited, with results back during the next two weeks. The results will be posted to DEQ’s website: http://deq.mt.gov/Water/WPB/mpdes/Gallatin-BigSkyWastewaterSpill
Turbidity results for 3/5/16, 3/6/16 and 3/7/2016 (Saturday, Sunday and Monday) were:
- At leaking pond discharge 3/5/16 17 NTU 3/6/16 19.9 NTU 3/7/16 56 NTU
- South Fork of the West Fork of Gallatin (Background) 3/5/16 0.8 NTU 3/6/16 1.8 NTU 3/7/16 0.6 NTU
- Second Yellow Mule creek 3/5/16 1686 NTU 3/6/16 739.6 NTU 3/7/16 57 NTU
- South Fork of the West Fork of Gallatin 3/5/16 1678 NTU 3/6/16 1020 NTU 3/7/16 73 NTU
- Middle Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin (background) 3/5/16 0.7 NTU 3/6/16 1.0 NTU 3/7/16 0.9 NTU
- Gallatin River upstream (background) 3/5/16 2.3 NTU 3/6/16 4.3 NTU 3/7/16 8.2 NTU
- West Fork slightly upstream of confluence of Gallatin 3/5/16 471 NTU 3/6/16 327 NTU 3/7/16 215.8 NTU
- Gallatin River at Deer Creek 3/5/16 40.9 NTU 3/6/16 33.1 NTU 3/7/16 9.6 NTU
- Gallatin River at Lava Lake 3/5/16 36.7 NTU 3/6/16 53.8 NTU 3/7/16 20.8 NTU
- Gallatin River at mouth of canyon toward Bozeman 3/5/16 20.2 NTU 3/6/16 22.0 NTU 3/7/16 14.0 NTU
FWP crews plan to conduct fish population sampling this week.
DEQ engineering staff are working with the Yellowstone Club staff on identifying the issues associated with the leak.
To homeowners with wells adjacent to streams affected by the effluent spill: the Gallatin County Health Department recommends that you test your well water. The Gallatin River Task Force will be handing out well test kits Tuesday, March 8th, between 11 AM and 2 PM. The Yellowstone Club will cover the testing costs for affected landowners. Bring your receipts to the Big Sky Water & Sewer District. More information: http://www.gallatinrivertaskforce.org/yellowstoneclubspill/
UPDATE: March 7, 2016 DEQ water quality specialist continue sampling and monitoring today. DEQ will be testing for E-coli on today, Monday, with results back mid-week. Other analysis results for phosphorus, suspended sediment, ammonia, pharmaceuticals, nitrate plus nitrite, and total nitrogen will be available after the information is received from the lab during the next few weeks.
The pond stopped flowing at 4:30 a.m. this morning, Monday, March 7, 2016. DEQ will be working with Yellowstone Club engineers to assess the situation and provide assistance and oversight.
Turbidity results for the 3/6/16 compared to 3/5/16 were:
- At leaking pond discharge 3/5/16 17 NTU 3/6/16 19.9 NTU
- South Fork of the West Fork of Gallatin (Background) 3/5/16 0.8 NTU 3/6/16 1.8 NTU
- Second Yellow Mule Creek 3/5/16 1,686 NTU 3/6/16 739.6 NTU
- South Fork of the West Fork of Gallatin 3/5/16 1678 NTU 3/6/16 1020 NTU
- Middle Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin (background) 3/5/16 0.7 NTU 3/6/16 1.0 NTU
- Gallatin River upstream (background) 3/5/16 2.3 NTU 3/6/16 4.3 NTU
- West Fork slightly upstream of confluence of Gallatin 3/5/16 471 NTU 3/6/16 327 NTU
- Gallatin River at Deer Creek 3/5/16 40.9 NTU 3/6/16 33.1 NTU
- Gallatin River at Lava Lake 3/5/16 36.7 NTU 3/6/16 53.8 NTU
- Gallatin River at mouth of canyon toward Bozeman 3/5/16 20.2 NTU 3/6/16 22.0 NTU
The turbidity is lowering in the creeks closest to the source while the turbidity in the surface water further away is increasing slightly. According to the sampling team this is normal as the turbidity in the streams closest to the point of discharge slowly clear and sediment moves down stream. The turbidity readings are still well above the standard of an increase of 5 NTU.
UPDATE: March 6, 2016 DEQ water quality specialist are continuing to sample. We have sample results for turbidity. Turbidity results were (for 3/5/3016):
• At leaking pond discharge 17 NTU (nephelometric turbidity units)
• South Fork of the West Fork of Gallatin (background) 0.8 NTU
• South Fork of the West Fork of Gallatin 1,678 NTU
• Second Yellow Mule Creek 669 NTU
• Middle Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin (background) 0.7 NTU
• Gallatin River upstream (background) 2.3 NTU
• West Fork slightly upstream of confluence of Gallatin 471 NTU
• Gallatin River at Deer Creek 40.9 NTU
• Gallatin River at mouth of canyon toward Bozeman 20.2 NTU
Turbidity is high, as expected. The turbidity readings are well above the standard of an increase of 5 NTU above naturally occurring (background samples identified above). DEQ will be testing for E-coli on Monday with results back mid-week. Other analysis results for phosphorus, suspended sediment, ammonia, pharmaceuticals, nitrate plus nitrite, and total nitrogen will be available after the information is received from the lab during the next few weeks.
EVENING UPDATE: March 5, 2016 Some water (160 to 180 thousand gallons per hour) from the leaking pond is being successfully transferred to another Yellowstone Club pond via an eight inch pipe. The transfer is reducing the total amount of water leaking into surface water and reducing the amount of time the discharge will continue. Current estimates are that the leaking pond will be empty by midday Sunday.
DEQ water quality specialists will be sampling for the next several days. The Yellowstone Club and the Gallatin River Task Force are teaming up for their own sampling effort.
UPDATE: March 5, 2016 Today DEQ water quality specialists are sampling for: turbidity, pathogens, phosphorus, suspended sediment, ammonia, pharmaceuticals, nitrate plus nitrite, and total nitrogen. DEQ employees are also headed to the release site to monitor progress.
March 4, 2016
Department of Environmental Quality Director Tom Livers will be onsite today with technical specialists to assess the situation. At this point, suspended sediment is the main concern from an aquatic standpoint. The wastewater stream is picking up a sediment load as it moves downstream.
DEQ will be working with local and other state officials on a sampling and monitoring plan. The plan will include sampling for pathogens, hydrogen, phosphorus, suspended sediment, ammonia and total nitrogen.
DEQ and other agency officials will be on hand today at 5:30 pm at the Big Sky Fire Station in the Meadow, 650 Rainbowtrout Run, to give a brief update and answer questions.