Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism

Department or School/College

School of Journalism

Committee Chair

Dennis Swibold

Committee Co-chair

Nadia White

Commitee Members

Sarah Halvorson


wastewater, Montana, septic systems, sewer systems, Florida Keys, Cape Cod


University of Montana

Subject Categories

American Politics | Environmental Policy | Environmental Studies | Infrastructure | Journalism Studies


Larson, Keely, M.A., Spring 2023

Major:Environmental and Natural Resources Journalism

Out of sight, out of mind: An exploration of wastewater issues and possible solutions in and out of Montana

Chairperson: Dennis Swibold

Co-Chairpersons: Nadia White, Sarah Halvorson

This is a master’s project, featuring three stories, linked in theme. The first starts with a nationally scoped story about septic systems in resort towns and what happens when too many people want to visit areas like Cape Cod, the Florida Keys or, more locally, Seeley Lake, and overwhelm waste disposal methods. Often in these areas that are more remote, septic systems are the norm. Septic systems can be effective methods of waste disposal, but they must be maintained, which is not always the case. When nutrients from septic systems leach into groundwater, they can make their way into surface water as algal blooms, a nuisance that can sometimes be toxic and commonly keeps people out of the water, a problem for resort communities that rely on water recreation.

Secondly, the project looks at a regional solution to another waste problem. A septage facility was proposed in Flathead County, Montana to address an issue septic pumpers and haulers were having – they didn’t have anywhere to dump their loads. As the prices of land continue to rise with a population influx and mirrored real estate prices in Montana, the land that pumpers and haulers typically used for land application is running low. Land application, or the act of disposing human waste as fertilizer onto a farm plot, has been practiced in one form or another for generations.

Lastly, this project looks at a more political solution to growth, infrastructure and waste. Montana Governor Greg Gianforte released his budget before the 2023 legislature and earmarked $200 million for water and sewer infrastructure upgrades, with a goal of that money going towards larger municipalities to facilitate expansion. Local economists in Bozeman, Montana saw this money as a way of supporting growth while eventually lowering the cost of housing, something the city of Bozeman continues to deal with as a result of more people and wealth coming to the city.



© Copyright 2023 Keely I. Larson