Laura Lundquist

(Missoula Current) The wastewater treatment system at Holland Lake Lodge may be insufficient for current use, let alone for a possible lodge expansion, and multiple government divisions may have failed to take note.

After Save Holland Lake, a Condon-area nonprofit, filed a complaint in early May asking the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to investigate the wastewater lagoon at the Holland Lake Lodge, DEQ issued a report on Aug. 21 that found the lagoon was probably leaking a good amount and more effluent is likely ending up in Holland Lake.

As a result, DEQ ordered the U.S. Forest Service, which oversees the lodge’s special-use permit to occupy public land, to conduct a test of the lagoon within a month. The deadline for completing the test is this Sunday.

“A lagoon leaking in excess of the allowed rate, or land application at greater than agronomic rates, could be considered a discharge to state waters without a permit,” DEQ said in its Aug. 21 letter to the Forest Service.

For years, the lagoon has served both the Holland Lake Lodge, which contributes the majority of the waste, and the nearby Forest Service campground. The lodge draws its water from a shallow well, which is used to pump sewage uphill to a Forest wastewater treatment plant above the campground, where wastewater is spray-irrigated into the woods.

In 2004, the Forest Service updated its wastewater system and permit, even though three of four wastewater tests conducted in 2003 failed for not meeting limits of total dissolved solids and the amount of dissolved oxygen being consumed by the bacteria in the lagoon, according to documents obtained by Save Holland Lake. No results were provided for tests of E. coli bacteria.

In its complaint, Save Holland Lake noted Missoula County data showed that the number of times that treated water was sprayed from the lagoon had decreased since 2003, even though the number of visitors has continued to increase.

This prompted Save Holland Lake to take the issue up with the Flathead National Forest, DEQ and Missoula County over the past year after a new owner, Salt Lake City-based POWDR, attempted to push through a lodge expansion that would have tripled the number of customers using the lodge and allowed the lodge to operate year-round.

DEQ issues the wastewater permit through Missoula County, while the Forest Service is required to conduct regular monitoring. But Save Holland Lake points out that neither Missoula County nor DEQ require monitoring records to be submitted or reviewed. This led Save Holland Lake to file its complaint with DEQ.

“This lingering wastewater problem and leakage into a pristine environment is a perfect example of why the lodge expansion shouldn’t be authorized,” David Roberts of SHL said in a release Wednesday. “Public agencies responsible for monitoring wastewater need to protect our public lands and waters. It’s that simple.”

DEQ has told the Flathead National Forest to conduct a standard water balance test to test for seepage, which basically compares the amount of water flowing into a lined lagoon with the amount leaving through either irrigation or evaporation. If the water leaving is less than the amount coming into the lagoon, the difference shows how much is leaking into the groundwater.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Forest Service, Save Holland Lake learned how much water is flowing into the lagoon and received some records showing how much wastewater is sprayed into the forest. They have yet to receive the remaining numbers from the Forest Service. But looking at DEQ’s report, the group says the water input exceeds water output.

They’re eagerly waiting to see the Forest Service tests, although they don’t trust the agency. Recent covert actions by the Flathead National Forest that favored POWDR’s application to expand have reduced the agency’s credibility. Especially when the Flathead Forest is still considering whether the transfer of the special-use permit from Wohlfiel to POWDR was legal.

Save Holland Lake said it would rather see an independent third party run the test and that the Forest Service require equipment upgrades to the wastewater facility, including real-time flow monitors.

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com

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