A federal judge has dismissed the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center and Gallatin Wildlife Association’s Clean Water Act lawsuit against the Yellowstone Club. “While we welcome this dismissal, it’s unfortunate that Cottonwood has yet again wasted the court’s time and a significant amount of resources to reach this conclusion,” a Yellowstone Club representative said in an e-mail to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court dismissed the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center and Gallatin Wildlife Association’s Clean Water Act lawsuit against the Yellowstone Club, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.
A day prior, the plaintiffs filed a notice to voluntarily dismiss their own case, the Daily Chronicle reported. That document arrived months after the Yellowstone Club asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit for a lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim.
Judge Morris dismissed all of Cottonwood’s original claims against the club, affirming the club’s assertion that the allegations were “conclusory and vague” as to what actions the plaintiffs believed violated the Clean Water Act, the Daily Chronicle reported.
“We are pleased the U.S. District Court dismissed this meritless case. While we welcome this dismissal, it’s unfortunate that Cottonwood has yet again wasted the court’s time and a significant amount of resources to reach this conclusion,” a Yellowstone Club representative said in an e-mail.
“The Yellowstone Club takes its responsibility to be a good steward of the environment seriously and has invested tens of millions of dollars to ensure the highest standards of water, habitat, and land management,” they said.
Cottonwood sued the Yellowstone Club last December based on a claim that the club was over-irrigating a golf course with treated wastewater, causing nitrogen to reach the South Fork Gallatin River—a water quality impaired tributary, the Daily Chronicle reported. The environmental law firm argued that because the private club did not have the proper permit from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the supposed discharge was a violation of the Clean Water Act.
Two months later in February, Cottonwood attempted to add Spanish Peaks Mountain Club in the lawsuit as a second defendant, the Daily Chronicle reported. The firm argued that a liner in that club’s wastewater holding pond was torn, and it claimed that the club was over-irrigating its golf course with treated effluent.
Spanish Peaks settled the lawsuit with Cottonwood in September, and it was later severed from the case, the Daily Chronicle reported. As part of its settlement agreement, the resort agreed to replace a liner in its wastewater holding pond.
In addition, Spanish Peaks agreed to limit the amount of effluent it sprays on its golf course, to report its irrigation activities to the Montana DEQ annually, for five years, and to fund local water quality improvement projects, the Daily Chronicle reported.
John Meyer, Cottonwood’s attorney and executive director, emphasized that his firm voluntarily dismissed its case against the Yellowstone Club before the judge issued the order because the original complaint did not identify a “point source” of pollution as is required by the law, the Daily Chronicle reported. Meyer said his firm has conducted further sampling, and it has gathered more information to show specific and concrete point sources of pollution. It sent a new and updated 60-day notice of intent to sue the Yellowstone Club over allegations of Clean Water Act violations last month, he said.
In an e-mail to the Daily Chronicle, a Yellowstone Club representative said that it has a strong history of partnering with credible environmental groups, including “collaboration on an approved $10 million water recycling effort that earned the support of American Rivers, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Trout Unlimited, Gallatin River Task Force, and more.”
While the city of Bozeman and other municipalities have permits to discharge treated sewage directly into rivers, the town of Big Sky stores its wastewater in holding ponds during the winter months before irrigating area golf courses with it in the summer months, the Daily Chronicle reported.
The land application system is designed to limit pollution in area waterways, but storage capacity around the town is limited, and some environmental groups believe the method is adding to nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Gallatin River and its tributaries, the Daily Chronicle reported.
When the right conditions are in place, elevated nutrient levels can lead to the proliferation of nuisance algae in rivers and streams, the Daily Chronicle reported. Over time, that can impact the ecosystem. The Gallatin River’s main stem has gone green with the growth for five years in a row.
The club representative said that the land application system is widely used to conserve water and be environmentally responsible with limited resources, adding that the Montana DEQ approved the club’s irrigation plan, which goes “above and beyond what is required by law,” the Daily Chronicle reported.