Snowbowl LLC Seeks to Make Fake Snow From Reclaimed Wastewater. Is Your Water Source Being Soiled for Greed?

by Blue Evening Star

Arizona Snowbowl is located on the flanks of Arizona's highest mountains, the San Francisco Peaks, which top out at 12,633 feet. Residents of nearby Flagstaff started skiing the extinct volcano back in 1938. In 2002, the Arizona Snowbowl Resorts Limited Partnership proposed a facilities improvement plan because “they want to have predictability in their business and so that guests can count on Snowbowl every year.” The USDA Forest Service prepared an Environmental Impact Statement to disclose the anticipated environmental effects of the facilities improvement plan.

The chief feature of Snowbowl's plan (which has generated enormous controversy) is the proposal to develop snowmaking, utilizing reclaimed wastewater from the nearby small city of Flagstaff. Snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks would also require the construction of a million-gallon water storage pond within the ski area, as well as the construction of a pipeline from Flagstaff to the Snowbowl to convey the water.

In February of 2004, the Coconino National Forest released the Draft Environmental Impact Study calling for artificial snowmaking on 205 acres of skiable terrain using wastewater. Coconino National Forest Supervisor Nora Rasure said her decision will allow for a consistent ski season and provide an economic boost for the City of Flagstaff. As stated in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, the overall purpose and need for the project is to provide a consistent/reliable operating season, and to improve safety, skiing conditions, and recreational opportunities by bringing terrain and infrastructure into balance with existing demand. Rasure could have opted for no new development or expansion without snowmaking equipment. Responding with concerns that human health and environmental consequences of reclaimed-water snowmaking were being ignored, a large coalition of opposition headed by 13 Native American Tribes, Save the Peaks Coalition, Sierra Club, Flagstaff Activist Network, Center for Biological Diversity, and ECHOES immediately condemned the Forest Service decision and appealed the decision to U.S. District Court.

On January 11, 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Rosenblatt upheld the Forest Service approval of Snowbowl's request to make snow with reclaimed wastewater. The coalition of opposition is actively working to oppose this renewed approval of Snowbowl's facilities improvement plan in a variety of ways including filing an injunction to the appeal, rallies, and marches. There are some who are saying it is possible they will resort to direct action to impede the building of the pipeline.

THE ISSUES

The San Francisco Mountain is a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) and was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as part of the White Vulcan Mine Settlement in July 2000. The Mountain is of traditional cultural significance to the Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, Hualapai, Havasupai, Yavapai-Apache, Yavapai-Prescott, Tonto Apache, White Mountain Apache, San Carlos Apache, San Juan Southern Pauite, Fort McDowell Mohave Apache, and Acoma. These tribes have consistently expressed that commercial and recreational activities on the Mountain conflict with their traditional values.

In the vision of the Native Americans, the ponderosa pines and aspen ridges are religious shrines, and the craggy summits are the abodes of powerful spirits. The last time the Snowbowl came in conflict with Native American beliefs, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the existence of the ski area on the San Francisco Peaks does not prohibit the practice of native religions. A lawyer for one of the tribes likened the current plan to “pouring dirty water on the Vatican.”

There are health-related concerns over using reclaimed wastewater for snowmaking. Howard Shanker, an attorney representing the Navajo, Yavapai-Apache, and White Mountain Apache Nations stated that, “No other ski area in the country, or even in the world that we are aware of, uses 100% treated wastewater sewage to make snow. Posting signs throughout the ski area saying “Don't Eat The Snow” is not an adequate safeguard to protect against the known and unknown risks of exposure to the types of chemicals that persist in this effluent.” Dr. Paul Torrence, a biochemist, said, “The Forest Service has misrepresented and misanalyzed the mechanisms inherent in pollutant release from snow pack, and has grossly underestimated the potential effect of reclaimed wastewater snowmaking on microorganisms, vegetation, and wildlife.”

In a study done by the U.S. Geological Survey, working with Northern Arizona University biology professor Catherine Propper, tests conducted on the Wildcat & Rio de Flag wastewater treatment facilities in Flagstaff found trace levels of endocrine disrupters in the treated water. When asked about the fitness of this effluent for snowmaking, Professor Propper stated, “The Rio de Flag water is A+ which more than meets the legal requirements for snowmaking. It does not mean the water has been evaluated for many 'emerging contaminants' including pharmaceuticals, some pesticides, and other industrial compounds that are not yet regulated at the federal or state levels. The Wildcat facility is currently B-grade water so it is currently not available for snowmaking. The Wildcat plant has had bonding approved by the voters to upgrade it to an A-level plant as well, but I am not sure where they are in the development phase of the construction plans.”

In wildlife, endocrine disrupters have been clearly shown to cause abnormalities and deformities in reproductive, immune, and skeletal systems. In humans, endocrine disrupters have been suggested as being responsible for apparent changes seen in health patterns over recent decades. These include declining sperm counts in affected areas, as well as increases in certain types of cancer that are known to be sensitive to hormones, and impairment in sexual and neural behavior. Is it worth risking these things so that the people who own Snowbowl LLC can go to sleep at night without worrying about going out of business because winter precipitation is so erratic in the high desert?

Other concerns with snowmaking have to do with the hydrological effects of snowmaking on the surrounding land. The San Francisco Peaks are a unique ecological island containing flora and fauna that exist in a pristine manner. Endangered wildlife such as the Mexican spotted owl and the bald eagle find refuge on the Mountain, where you will also find the only alpine tundra vegetation in Arizona which contains the threatened plant senecio franciscano, as well as the only area of bristlecone pine in Arizona.

The concerns for the hydrological cycle have been well documented by Abe Springer, a professor of hydrogeology at Northern Arizona University. Professor Springer is convinced that using treated effluent for snowmaking will reduce groundwater availability in the region. The City of Flagstaff has approved the future sale of up to 30 million gallons per year of treated effluent to make snow. If this effluent is applied to the slopes, Professor Springer points out that about 75% is expected to be lost to sublimation. Preliminary water budget estimates suggest the volume of water lost to sublimation and evaporation would amount to about 6% of Flagstaff's current water use, and this represents a net loss to Flagstaff's ground water resources. He asks the question: Should treated effluent be used for snowmaking or should it be returned to the groundwater flow system, thus reducing the need to develop new sources of water supply?

As water resources shrink and demand exponentially expands, we may find that our money will need to go into designing and building better water treatment systems so that we can reuse water for basic needs.

POSSIBILITIES

The controversial question of using treated effluent to make snow on the San Francisco Peaks is stirring up many ideas for alternatives.

• ECHOES has begun efforts to nominate the San Francisco Peaks as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is seen as a positive and healthy solution that would support and enable the creation of a year-round sustainable economy for the City of Flagstaff while promoting cultural values and protecting unique environmental landscapes.

• Since Snowbowl LLC may have to go out of business (unless they can find a way to control Mother Nature and make sure of their yearly snow pack) perhaps someone can simply buy them out and do something more agreeable with the purchase of the Sacred Mountain. Or maybe Snowbowl can continue to limp along on $9 million a year (on slow years).

• Susie Chaffee, former Gold Medal Olympic Ski Champion, has been working with ski resorts in the Western United States in order to bring them together with Native Americans who are familiar with ceremonial methods of snowmaking. She suggests that agreements can be made so that the ski resorts promise to do nothing to harm the integrity of the sacred area, while the Native Americans, through ceremony, are trying to make sure there is adequate snow every winter. On her website www.nativevoices.org she documents a case in Colorado where these agreements have been made.

TAKING A PEEK AT
THE BIGGER PICTURE

Perhaps we need to expand our vision of what is happening on the planet. Yes, there are a lot of businesses tied to the Arizona Snowbowl, but when earth changes happen are we going to continue to try to tamper with the natural order to suit our greed?

Unbeknownst to many people, a Divine Administration of celestial beings has been patiently and steadily working with the human beings on this planet to assist us in progressing as individuals and as civilizations. One of the measuring sticks of this progress is guess what? (No, not creating mega-corporations that destroy natural resources on a global scale, while lowering the quality of life for the majority, in order for an infinitesimally small minority of folks to amass more wealth than they can possibly use in many lifetimes.) Since the beginning of human history, when the first human families began growing in numbers and impacting their planetary surroundings, our celestial teachers have been trying to impress upon us the importance of ALLOWING NOTHING IMPURE TO FALL INTO THE WATER SUPPLY.

The first human foresight was directed toward the preservation of fire, water, and food. But primitive man was a natural-born gambler; he always wanted to get something for nothing, and all too often during these early times the success which accrued from patient practice was attributed to charms. Magic was slow to give way before foresight, self-denial, and industry.

The difference between primitive man and modern man is that instead of getting something for nothing, our laws and social mores support a system where the power elite get something—like increased revenues from happily skiing tourists—AT THE EXPENSE of the disempowered. All too often those responsible for managing water resources lack the foresight, self-denial, and industry to safeguard the purity of those water resources. By and large we are still hoping for magic to protect our water supply from invisible pollutants. At what point will everyone realize that polluting or depleting the water supply affects all plants, animals, and people?

Unbeknownst to some, rainstorms do little to recharge the aquifers which we draw upon for most of our precious pure, fresh water. Here, in Northern Arizona, the rain water runs along the rocky surfaces of the land and heads for the Mexican border. It is the snow pack on the Mountain that replenishes the ancient circulating rivers of water in the earth. There is no quicker way to universally distribute toxins in the water supply than to dump those toxins on the Mountain. If everyone who draws upon the waters that spring forth from the Mountain realized this, would not everyone consider the Mountain sacred?

The Mountain is the root of the surrounding watershed basin. When you water a plant, you place the water on the roots because in this way the moisture will be transferred along the branches, stems, and leaves. Whatever is in the water will pass along to the rest of the plant. If there is not sufficient water, the plant will sacrifice growth on the outer perimeters so that the more central parts of the plant will survive and flourish again when the days of sufficient moisture return. The Mountain is like an upside down plant in regards to water cycles in our region. The Mountain is the root, and the ground and surface waters that are nourished from the root extend in much the same way as the branches, stems, and leaves of a plant. So, the effects from toxins in the mountains can affect us locally with pollutants entering into Oak Creek and the Verde River.

Yavapai-Apache Chairman Jamie Fullmer said in a statement, “This decision to move ahead with the fake snow may see some short-term success, but the long-term consequences and repercussions could haunt all of us, regardless of which culture you claim as your own.”

1The URANTIA Book, p. 773