Flagstaff, AZ – Native American tribes, which in June 2009 lost a battle at the U.S. Supreme Court over the proposed use of treated wastewater to make snow for the first time at Arizona Snowbowl, have now expressed opposition to the use of any water source to make snow at the ski area.nThe matter came to a head last week at a meeting of the Flagstaff city water council. Rejecting City Manager Kevin Burke’s recommendation to cell underground water to the ski area for snowmaking, the council voted unanimously to table the idea pending further consideration.
Arizona Snowbowl sits high above Flagstaff in the San Francisco Peaks, where annual snowfall from year to year is highly volatile, prompting the ski area to turn to snowmaking to assure profitable operation. After the U.S. Forest Service approved the use of reclaimed wastewater for snowmaking at the ski area, the first effort to make snow in the resort’s 71-year history, a number of regional Native American tribes filed suit, asserting that the spraying of treated wastewater upon lands that they deem sacred is culturally insensitive. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in favor of the ski area and the Forest Service, and after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the ruling last June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has withheld snowmaking construction permits at the request of the tribes, instead seeking to forge a compromise between the tribes, Arizona Snowbowl, and the city of Flagstaff regarding a new water source.
Now, however, some Native American tribes are expressing their refusal to consider any water source for snowmaking. The underground water source now under consideration is currently used as a culinary water source for some Flagstaff-area homes. The chairman of the Hopi Tribe, Le Roy Shingoitewa, said at last week’s meeting of the Flagstaff city water council that his tribe’s members oppose the use of any water source whatsoever for snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks.
Attorney Howard Shanker, who has represented the Navajo Nation in the case opposing snowmaking using treated wastewater, told the Arizona Daily Sun newspaper that, “This (source of water) is not more culturally sensitive. The Navajo Nation has always taken the position that they oppose the use of any water for snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks.”
A vice chairman for the Havasupai Tribe told the newspaper that his tribe was not consulted regarding the underground water proposal, but Havasupai Tribal Council Member Carletta Tilousi told the commission that her tribe would not support snowmaking from any water source.
The USDA has promised to help offset the increased cost of using an alternative water source for Snowbowl’s snowmaking. U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, both R-Ariz., have opposed the USDA’s efforts to forge a compromise agreement, saying they will not support the use of taxpayer money to fund an extra $11 million for an alternative source for snowmaking water for the ski area. They both support the original plan to use reclaimed water. McCain has challenged the USDA’s delay in issuing permits, but the agency has responded that the court’s decision does not compel the U.S. Forst Service under the USDA to act.
Having lost at the U.S. Supreme Court last year, Native tribes are now employing a different tactic in an effort to stop snowmaking at the ski area. Shanker will next month argue a new case in court on behalf of the Navajo tribe, asserting that the federal government did not adequately consider whether reclaimed water was safe for snowmaking if the snow were to be ingested.