Some of the tribes that oppose Arizona
Snowbowl's plans to make snow with reclaimed wastewater say the
new proposal to use a slightly different Flagstaff water source is
Members speaking on behalf of the Hopi,
Havasupai and Navajo tribes say U.S. Department of Agriculture
efforts to pump groundwater downstream of the Rio de Flag
wastewater treatment plant doesn't negate their concerns about
How much that is the case varies by tribe.
The city of Flagstaff considers the well water,
pumped from a depth of 1,500 feet, to be drinkable with only
minimal treatment. The water in that part of the aquifer is a
combination of discharged treated wastewater, rainfall and
The Hopi Tribe has not been formally consulted
on the plans, said Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director for the Hopi
Cultural Preservation Office, and a witness for the Hopi Tribe in
the lawsuit over snowmaking.
But its opposition to snowmaking of any kind
isn't likely to change.
"The Hopi tribe's position at this point has
not changed," Kuwanwisiwma said. "As the lawsuit clearly
articulates, we are clearly opposed to snowmaking entirely, from
any source of water."
Kuwanwisiwma said the tribe had told the
Agriculture Department as much last fall.
Plaintiff Bucky Preston, a Hopi farmer, agreed.
He said snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks would interfere with
sacred instructions passed down through Hopi generations about the
proper roles of humans and natural forces on the Peaks.
"It's against the creator to make snow. That's
not humans' job," Preston said.
HAVASUPAI ALSO OPPOSED
A councilwoman for the Havasupai Tribe, based
in a canyon branching from the Grand Canyon, had a similar view.
"Making artificial snow for economic purposes
is still steps toward abusing sacred mountains. Whatever process
they use to make artificial snow is still unacceptable to us
Havasupai people," Carletta Tilousi said.
Springs that are the main water source for the
village of Supai lie in the same watershed as a portion of Arizona
Snowbowl, according to earlier environmental analysis done for the
Coconino National Forest.
This raises concerns that snowmaking could
eventually affect water quality at Supai, Tilousi said.
The Navajo Nation Council has been in talks
with Flagstaff city officials, but Navajo concerns there are
different than at Supai or on Hopi.
The council's main objection is the use of
reclaimed water on the Peaks, said Joshua Lavar Butler, spokesman
for Speaker Lawrence Morgan.
That might include groundwater downstream from
a wastewater treatment plant's discharge.
"The council is opposed to any kind of usage of
the reclaimed water," Butler said.
CONSTRUCTION PERMIT HELD UP
Arizona Snowbowl has a contract for up to 1.5
million gallons per day of treated wastewater from Flagstaff for
snowmaking during four winter months, as proposed in plans that
have been cleared by the courts.
Although Snowbowl was legally cleared to use
treated effluent for snowmaking in that previous case (which
hinged on whether the plans violated religious freedoms of the
tribes), there is another lawsuit pending opposing the health and
environmental risks of using reclaimed wastewater to make snow.
More recently, permission for Snowbowl to begin
construction was withheld by the incoming presidential
administration at the White House cabinet level.
The Agriculture Department has not granted the
ski area the final permission it would need to begin construction
on snowmaking pipelines and other infrastructure, which had been
proposed for this spring, and to be operational for the coming
Instead, Secretary Tom Vilsack has proposed the
city of Flagstaff offer a new water source in return for
Agriculture's help in funding future city water infrastructure
SEVEN YEARS AND $4 MILLION
Snowbowl has pressed for permission to build
through letters to Agriculture, saying the business has spent more
than seven years and $4 million on the case so far.
Letters in that regard were obtained by the
Daily Sun under the Freedom of Information Act.
"As we sit in Flagstaff, we observe the
Hualapai tribe construct a tourist 'Skybridge' over the Grand
Canyon with no public input, the Navajo tribe building a casino 30
miles east of Flagstaff for tribal 'economic development,' the
Hopi tribe win an award for a new water treatment facility that
produces A+ reclaimed water, and the Apache Sunrise Ski Area make
snow to ensure their business," Snowbowl Owner Eric Borowsky and
General Manager J.R. Murray wrote to Deputy Agriculture Secretary
Kathleen Merrigan last summer. "It appears that tribes are able to
do what is necessary for their prosperity, yet these same tribes
are attempting to force us out of business."
Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607 or at