When a golfer picks up a ball on a course, they may not realize it could be covered in wastewater.
It’s not something to worry about, though. Recycling wastewater for other uses is a common practice.
In Big Sky, Montana, a popular tourist destination about an hour drive from Yellowstone National Park, an exclusive ski club wants to become the first in the state to recycle wastewater into freshly packed ski snow.
The Yellowstone Club is a private ski and golf resort near Big Sky. The club’s been working for over a decade to create a plan to safely take wastewater and make snow for a ski run, Rich Chandler, the club’s environmental manager, told McClatchy News.
As soon as the 2022-23 ski season, the club’s snow could be made from from 25 million gallons of wastewater that comes from the Yellowstone Club treatment plant and the Big Sky County sewer district. That’s enough water to fill 25 swimming pools as long as a football field, according to geologists.
“We’re just trying to recycle,” Chandler said during a video call. “That’s all we’re doing. We’re recycling a phenomenal resource.”
Recycled wastewater is already used on a handful of golf courses in Big Sky, and it’s been permitted to make snow in at least eight states, a club document says.
Some people may be wary of skiing on what they know was once wastewater, but Chandler said there’s no cause for concern. Because the snow would be made from recycled water, it gets heavily regulated by the state.
The snow could even end up being cleaner than snow that’s made from other sources of water because of the rigorous regulations. The snowmaking process also treats the water’s bacteria even more, Chandler said.
“It carries much higher standards that the permit holder is required to legally abide by and further safeguards the human health factor than current snowmaking practices,” Chandler told McClatchy News in an email.
The club applied for a permit in April 2020, and it’s getting closer to the snowmaking effort becoming a reality, according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. The public comment period for the project has ended, and the department will now review comments and may issue a final permit.
Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and the Gallatin River Task Force have supported the project.
If the permit is approved, the Yellowstone Club will be required to monitor the snow for several different pollutants, the department told McClatchy News.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Chandler said. “We have a phenomenal resource with this reclaimed water, and if we don’t start doing this now, who’s going to do it?”