Viewpoint: What’s in the water at Holland Lake?
Overwhelming public opposition to the proposed expansion of the Holland Lake Lodge (HLL) by ski resort giant POWDR has been no surprise, given that Holland Lake and Holland Creek are critical habitat for bull trout and support nesting common loons.
HLL is a primary source of sewage near Holland Lake, even with a limited operating season. The lodge draws its water from a shallow groundwater well, and its sewage is pumped uphill to a U.S. Forest Service treatment plant above the campground, where wastewater is spray-irrigated into the woods.
In 1999, Missoula based engineering firm WGM provided the wastewater treatment plant’s expansion design. WGM also provided operation, maintenance, and reporting requirements for the plant’s 2004 Missoula County permit. Test reports attached to the 2004 permit show three of four tests failing for total suspended solids (TSS) and biological oxygen demand (BOD) limits in 2003, while other monitoring requirements, such as coliform tests, were not included.
Despite these failures, the permit was issued. When POWDR submitted its lodge expansion proposal in 2022, WGM attached a “Wastewater Technical Memo” stating the existing wastewater treatment system appears to be in working condition.
Maybe the equipment’s there, but does it function correctly? It’s impossible to say because many of the permit-monitoring requirements are not available, and about half the test samples since 2002 failed permitted design limits for BOD and/or TSS. No coliform tests have been recorded (although the HLL drinking well apparently tested positive for coliform from 2000 to 2005). Minimally, there should have been several tests each summer documenting TSS, BOD, dissolved oxygen, and coliform counts. Yet, in most years since 2005, there was only a single test for some parameters and none for coliform.
In 2020 and 2022, there were no tests at all. Why? Apparently because the pond liner at the plant was failing, so the wastewater discharged in a concentrated manner directly into the ground. The failure of the wastewater/sewage treatment system was not disclosed to the public, county or state.
The people who were aware of the failing wastewater system are the same people who want to be trusted to expand the lodge and create a major increase of flows to this plant to serve the lodge.
What could go wrong?
- Visitor capacity will increase threefold. The visitor season will increase into winter. The annual wastewater volume will increase more than six-fold.
- A large amount of the lakeshore will be compromised by the new lodge and cabins, built only feet back from the shoreline (despite USFS riparian protection requirements and MT Fish, Wildlife and Park’s recommended 130-foot setback).
- Parking capacity will be vastly increased, accompanied by associated issues of fuel, oil, and RV sewage spillage. No protections are in the plan.
- No stormwater management plan was submitted.
- Multiple internal recommendations from Forest Service experts have simply been ignored.
Impacts could include health impacts to the adjacent campground and hikers and an increase in nutrient and pollution loading to the shallow water table, lake, and creek.
The existing wastewater system has already failed. Don’t let it be expanded by people that have proven they don’t deserve our trust.
As a reviewing Forest Service employee stated: “The proposal sent to me was NOT adequate” and “just saying everything will be ok and we will deal with it when we have a problem is not acceptable.”
Holland Lake should be protected as a precious gem, not destroyed by people willing to sweep major issues under the rug to benefit very few locals and more wealthy out-of-state developers and their clients.
Putting Holland Lake’s watershed at significantly increased risk of damage isn’t in the public interest!