By Montana Grant

Posted: July 9, 2022

Montana brags about our Blue-Ribbon wild trout fisheries. The Yellowstone, Madison, and Gallatin Rivers top this list. With this label comes crowds, overuse, and abuse. Many of these rivers are going Green, and that’s not a good thing! 

Sadly, the Gallatin River is downstream of the community known as Big Sky. These clean and pure Montana waters are assumed to be pristine and perfect. Thanks to development and over exploitation, they are not.

Every water that flows from Yellowstone Park, like the Gallatin, begins life with arsenic, lead, and mercury pollution. These toxins come from nature and the geothermal features of the geysers and hot springs. Fish consumption is discouraged. As the river flows downstream other pollution is added. Leaky septic systems, silt from development, and finally the sewage from Big Sky is released into the river. 

Initially, Big Sky was supposed to only use their treated water to water the golf courses. Sounds like a good idea until we realize a very short golf season and an exploding growth in development. Excess treated water is now soaked into the aquifers that feed the river. The sewage treatment is minimal. To make the water cleaner would cost more money.

Some advocates for growth and develop claim this pollution is the cost we must all pay for a better fiscal economy. Sadly, everyone else’s taxes continue to rise, and our less crowded Montana has become a playground for the wealthy and tourists. Big Sky is not impacted since their sewage dumps flow downstream for the rest of Montanans to deal with. If the river flowed into their Big Sky playground, developers and homeowners would be screaming for an immediate fix. The problem is not in their backyard, it’s in everyone else’s.

Fishing along the Gallatin River is threatened. Good luck trying to fish downstream without flotillas of rubber rafts, kayaks, and canoes drifting by. The narrow river leaves little space for them to not spook the fish. Oh, sure the fish will calm down in a bout 15 minutes or so but in that time, more boats pass by.

The Gallatin was once stocked, and huge fish were common. As a kid I remember carrying one bucket with one huge trout to the river. Half the trout was sticking out! Today, the fish are stream bred but rarely grow to trophy size. Many tourists catch and keep dinner despite consumption warnings. Heck the fish from Montana must be healthier than where they are from.

Thanks to the added pollution and development, access is becoming an issue. Insects are also impacted. Additional nutrients from the treated sewage are changing he watercolor and adding algae blooms to the downstream flows. These pollution levels are exceeding the 25% threshold for nitrogen, phosphorus, and algae. Huge amounts of dissolved pharmaceuticals are also showing up in the treated sewage water. 

Currently the Madison and other watersheds are getting more attention. Without some healthy changes, the Gallatin could become the biggest problem. The latest effort to protect the Gallatin was Initiative 191. This petition was designed to designate portions of the Gallatin and Madison Rivers as Outstanding Resource Waters. Politicians chose to not add this to this Falls election ballot. They excluded electronic signatures for the petition to be approved.

Local groups and non-profits are without the huge budgets and big-time lawyers of Big Sky and Big Money developers. Any modification would cut into their profits and development plans.

No one should have the right to pollute the river!

Montana Grant

New Podcast!

Riley's Meats - Butte Wild Game Processing