Wednesday, March 07, 2018 by Ethan Huff
One of the four ski resorts that calls the state of Arizona home is the subject of a new lawsuit alleging that the company managing it is defiling the sacredness of the land by spraying ski run terrain with artificial snow made from reclaimed water.
According to the Hopi tribe, the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, located in the northern part of the state, are truly something special. Its members actually believe that the area is governed by spiritual beings that decide whether or not to provide precipitation, and that humans shouldn’t intervene by creating artificial snow.
That’s why they’ve decided to sue the Snowbowl resort for allegedly defiling the hallowed status of these mountains by dousing them with what amounts to treated sewage water in snowflake form every winter season. Not only is the practice unsavory for those exposed to it, they claim, but it also damages the delicate ecosystem of all the land elements involved.
“People compare it to baptizing a baby with reclaimed water,” says Ed Kabotie, a local artist and member of the Hopi tribe, about the practice, which has been going on since 2012. “Nobody would think about something like that.”
State regulations currently allow for the use of reclaimed water in keeping cropland and parks nourished throughout the mostly-desert state. But tests have uncovered trace amounts of pharmaceuticals like Prozac and ibuprofen in reclaimed water, as well as other chemicals like deet – which the tribe and environmentalists alike say represents a public health threat.
In responding to these claims, the resort and its surrounding businesses are appealing to the economic benefits of keeping the resort covered in snow. They say it’s critical to keep everything functioning as many people’s livelihoods are dependent upon those ski runs being open for as long as possible every winter season.
Beyond that, the land is technically owned by the public, which means neither the Hopi tribe nor any other special interest group can legally call the shots as to how the land is used.
“I don’t ever question tribal beliefs or culture. I don’t question that when they say it’s sacred. But it’s public land with a land use designation for a ski area and it has been designated that way since 1938,” was the response given by J.R. Murray, the general manager of Snowbowl, in defense of his resort’s use of artificial snow made from reclaimed water.
“There are hundreds of thousands of people per year that enjoy the recreation we provide and the snowmaking sustains that.”
Snowbowl does, however, have the option to further purify the water to make it safer for the public. In 2016, the city of Flagstaff had actually reached a settlement with the tribe in which an advanced filtration system was supposed to have been installed that would have basically percolated water through earthen materials in order to mimic how natural spring water typically bubbles forth from the natural desert mesas throughout the area.
But right as the Hopi tribe had unanimously agreed to the settlement, Flagstaff officials suddenly decided to set it aside and continue allowing the Snowbowl resort to use reclaimed water with trace levels of toxins. This is what ultimately led the Hopi tribe to pursue its latest lawsuit calling on the Snowbowl to stop making artificial snow, period.
“It’s a frustrating thing for me because I live to ski and this is the closest and best option,” a local resident and ski shop owner stated to the media. “But I also don’t necessarily love the idea of supporting an organization that is not respectful of the native tribes.”
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