Montana Water Treatment Plant Sued Over Pollution

The Big Sky Water and Sewer District Water Resources Recovery Facility (WRRF) was sued on Friday in the District of Montana for alleged ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA).  The Cottonwood Environmental Law Center and the Gallatin Wildlife Association claimed the defendants have been discharging pollutants into local waterways without a permit.

The Big Sky Water and Sewer District manages the WRRF, which is a treatment center and set of holding ponds in Big Sky, Mont. that are adjacent to the West Fork of the Gallatin River.  As the complaint states, wastewater from a pipe near one of the holding ponds “is discharging directly into the West Fork of the Gallatin River.”  That wastewater is allegedly contaminated “with pharmaceuticals, chloride, nitrate, calcium, fluoride, iron, lithium, magnesium, potassium, sodium and sulfate and other pollutants.”

The CWA requires the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to issue the proper permits before it allows any discharge of pollutants into the state’s waterways.  The proper permit, in this case, would be a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.  The WRRF currently does not have an NPDES permit and has never obtained one, which is a violation of the CWA, 33 U.S.C. § 1311(a). 

Prior to filing this suit, the plaintiffs on March 5 collected samples from the West Fork above and below the holding pond of the facility.  The results indicated “elevated levels of chloride, nitrate, calcium, fluoride, iron, lithium, magnesium, potassium, sodium and sulfate below the pond, indicating pollutants increase due to discharge from the pond.”  Additional lab results were taken on May 4 from water flowing out of the leak in a holding pond retaining water, which contained the same pollutants.  The plaintiffs also claimed they have “observed, photographed and recorded discharge into the West Fork on March 5, May 4, and June 12, 2020.”  Finally, the plaintiffs provided a 60-day notice of violation on April 27 to Big Sky, but never received a response. 

Plaintiffs are seeking for the court to agree that Big Sky has violated the CWA for its discharging of pollutants without an NPDES permit, and for the court to enjoin it from further discharging pollutants into the West Fork.  Additionally, they are asking for the court to order interim pollution monitoring and mitigation measures until Big Sky complies with the CWA, and order Big Sky to remediate the environmental harm it has allegedly caused. 

Plaintiffs are represented by Cottonwood Environmental Law Center.