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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the proposed project?

The proposed project establishes a network of pipes that will transport sewage from its points of origin to a point of treatment and ultimately disposal. This system will include the installation of nearly five miles of sewer collection main along Highway 191 and throughout the existing Canyon Area development corridor.  The proposed project will serve both current and future residents.


Utilizing the natural slope of the land, Canyon Area wastewater will be conveyed largely by gravity to the Canyon Area Lift Station.  From there, the wastewater will be pushed uphill to the Big Sky Water Resource Recovery Facility (WRRF) for treatment through a pressurized sewer pipe known as a force main.


Treated GCCWSD effluent would be conveyed by gravity back to the Canyon Area for disposal. Because the effluent will be treated to Class A-1 quality, Montana’s highest wastewater effluent classification, the District has significant flexibility in reuse options beyond typical land application. Disposal methods currently being explored include groundwater infiltration, irrigation reuse, reuse water-based fire control systems, water tanker filling stations, and separate plumbing of non-potable water uses in existing and future development.

What is a Water Sewer District?

A County Water Sewer District is a form of local government responsible for their publicly owned water and wastewater services. More information can be found on the Montana Code Title 7 Chapter 13 Part 22 and Part 23 regarding county water and/or sewer Districts. 

How can I participate in the planning process?

Public Comment

A great way to get involved is to attend District Board meetings. Check the Home page for the next meeting date and agenda. Public comment can be provided at public meetings or written comments can be submitted at any time to the District at


Annexation into the GCCWSD will increase your say in the planning process. To learn more about the annexation process see here.



Qualified electors in the District will have opportunities to vote on future board members, annexation of non-contiguous properties, debt repayment plans and more in the coming years.


Join the Board of Directors

As the District grows, the board of directors will need to grow from 3 to 5 members. To be eligible to serve on the board of directors, you must be a resident or own real property in the GCCWSD and meet the qualifications outlined in MCA 7-13-2223. If you are interested in serving on the board, please contact the District for additional information. Board members are typically elected during the May county elections but can be appointed by existing board members in between elections.

Who can join the District?

A property, or group of properties, that is adjacent to the existing District is eligible to petition the board for annexation. Properties that are adjacent or not may request to be annexed through a petition and vote of the qualified electors of the District.


Properties included in the 2021 Preliminary Engineering Report’s “Sewer Service Area” are actively encouraged to join the District to maximize economies of scale, public health, environmental, and development benefits.  Other properties further along the canyon or along Highway 64 were not included in the preliminary design may still petition for annexation.

How can I join the District?

Annexation can be accomplished by a petition of contiguous owners who would like to join or through a vote. The District board can accept or reject a petition or establish a vote, if needed.


The District is encouraging other properties in the canyon to join and will help facilitate annexation where feasible.  If you would like to discuss possibly joining the District, please email


See the Montana Code 7-13-2341 for details. 

Why does the Canyon need a sewer?

Water and Sewer service in the Gallatin Canyon currently consists of private wells and numerous septic systems, including several larger “public” wastewater systems servicing individual development areas. These onsite wastewater systems release relatively low-quality effluent to the aquifer which increases human health risks to those on private wells.


Additionally, the use of individual septic systems requires more space which promotes development sprawl. This can disincentivize the development of denser, more affordable housing.


Nutrient modeling conducted as part of the Feasibility Study (FS) indicate that existing septic systems cause nutrient concentrations to roughly double in the adjacent stretch of the Gallatin River during baseflow conditions when the river is most sensitive to algal blooms.  The Gallatin River and its tributaries in the West Fork Watershed are important habitat for a variety of species and integral to the area’s outdoor recreation-based culture and economy.


Public, environmental, and economic health of the community are all affected by the lack of a central sewer. With approximately 270% growth expected in the Canyon over the next 20 years, these issues will only get worse unless a comprehensive wastewater management change occurs. A central sewer has been identified as the best option to help minimize future impact to the Gallatin Canyon.   


For more details, please see Section 3 of the Preliminary Engineering Report.

What happens to the rest of the Canyon area?

Properties outside of the GCCWSD may petition to be annexed into the GCCWSD and to have sewer service extended to them at any time.


Joining the GCCWSD and connecting to centralized sewer will not be the best option for all properties. There are decentralized options that can provide significantly better nutrient and pathogen reduction than the current systems that could be used to treat wastewater from more remote clusters of development. SepticNet and Treatment Wetlands (similar to Bridger Bowl’s system) are promising options for these areas. Private wastewater service issues are not under the jurisdiction of the GCCWSD. Projects such as these would be the responsibility of the property owners.


Note that some properties may have to connect to adjacent sewer lines upon failure of their onsite wastewater treatment systems per Administrative Rules of Montana (ARM) 17.36.914 and 17.36.328, even if they are not in the GCCWSD boundaries at the time.

How does this project impact public health?

Many drinking water wells in the project area are shallow and draw from the same aquifer that the septic systems discharge to, and therefore are more susceptible to nitrate, pathogen, and contaminants of emerging concern contamination. Nitrate in groundwater can be an indicator of septic system contamination.

One of the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology (MBMG) Canyon Area monitoring wells had an average nitrate level of 8.43 mg/l in 2020 and has reached levels as high as 28.8 mg/l. This indicates a serious health risk already exists. Several other areas have average concentrations above the 5mg/l advisory level, indicating long-term health impacts. Additionally, preliminary modeling indicates that several potable wells do not meet 200-day travel time non-degradation standards and may be exposed to wastewater-sourced microbial pollution.


Planned growth will significantly increase these health risks if a central sewer is not built. When nitrate is present in groundwater at the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 10 mg/L, it indicates that about 20% of that water was discharged from a septic system. Elevated nitrates are not present in the aquifer east of the Gallatin River, where no septic systems are present.

Decommissioning aging, inconsistently maintained, on-site wastewater systems and replacing them with centralized sewer connections will reduce nitrate loading to the aquifer and the associated health risks. Risk of microbial contamination of drinking water wells from wastewater will be much reduced as well. Continued use of outdated and aging septic systems increases the chance of system failures that lead to surfacing of wastewater. Contact with surfaced septage is an acute health risk that exposes people, often children, to pathogens that cause diseases such as gastroenteritis, hepatitis, and dysentery.   


With the new sewer, Class A1 water reuse quality effluent will be discharged to the shallow aquifer. Relative to existing conditions, human health risks associated with potable water supply will be reduced. Approval of a DEQ groundwater discharge permit will require further evaluation and documentation of adequate protection of human health and the environment.


Additionally, nutrient reductions from this project will enhance contact recreation safety. Nutrient loading to surface water increases risk of harmful algal blooms (HABs), which cause health hazards ranging from rashes to death from exposure to cyanotoxins in the water. Children and pets are more likely than adults to ingest water and have a severe reaction. The Gallatin River is highly valued for its variety of non-contact and contact recreation opportunities. Non-harmful algal blooms have occurred in the Gallatin in recent summers.

Will this affect growth issues?

Yes. According Feasibility Study estimates based on water right-limited growth, Population is expected to grow to nearly 2.7 times the current level in the planned sewer service area in the next 20 years. The current GCCWSD is projected to grow to 5.4 times present levels during the same period.  The area suffers from lack of workforce/affordable housing, and the Canyon Area development model of individual wells and septic systems results in inefficient land use (e.g. development sprawl).One current example, is a new high-density development waiting in limbo that would provide 265 living units, including some designated ‘affordable housing’.


Centralized sewer and wastewater treatment is expected to promote infill and redevelopment of underutilized land parcels. In addition to reducing the environmental, health, and administrative burdens of individual septic use, this should help alleviate other current community challenges such as commuter traffic congestion from workforce/affordable housing in the Gallatin Valley, and its related pollution.


This project will allow private capital that would otherwise be used for individual, lower quality wastewater treatment and disposal systems for the planned large developments, to be applied towards the much-needed public system that serves the existing residents and meets larger community goals.

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