Down the Toilet

What do Arizona ski resorts, Navajo Native Americans, and sewage water have in common? A lot, apparently. One particular ski resort, Arizona Snowbowl in Flagstaff, Arizona, plans to expand their slopes onto what was previously Native American territory. And the snow they’ll be using for said slopes? Made from 100% sewage effluent. In other words, treated sewer water. A New York Times article on the subject explains it all:

This coming ski season, the resort, Arizona Snowbowl, will become the first ski resort in the world to use 100 percent sewage effluent to make artificial snow.

It is necessary to create fake snow due to warming climates and early-in-the-season opening days, usually around Thanksgiving. Cities across America already use treated sewer water as a means to irrigate parks, soccer fields, and golf courses. As far as standards go, the water used for Arizona Snowbowl is in the highest category–just below drinking water. However, when the city of Flagstaff conducted its own water tests (in addition to the federal study), they found that the water also contains “hormones, antibiotics, antidepressants, pharmaceuticals and steroids” and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs.

Moreover, both the Native Americans that live on the land and several environmental groups are concerned that the treated sewage water will seep into aquifers and the soil around the mountain. But too much is unknown to make good predictions on the subject of long-term effects.

For the short-term, the Snowbowl expansion means a longer and more reliable ski season. In turn, nearby Flagstaff would receive more tourism from the skiers, generating roughly $35 million for local businesses in the wintertime. Even J.R. Murray, the general manager of Snowbowl, said, “Everyone does well when the ski area does well.” It’s a huge boost for the economy, especially in times like this.

There’s one more side to this story: the side of the Navajo, as described in the same NYT article:

In February, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the ski resort’s upgrade plans, ending a legal saga fought by a coalition of environmental groups and 13 American Indian tribes, which consider the mountain sacred and view the wastewater snow as a desecration.

Klee Benally, an activist and member of the Navajo tribe, commented that going forward with the expansion and usage of wastewater is “an Old West mentality: let’s go forward and assess the damage later.” This conjures up images of the unregulated mining that went on for decades and completely ravaged the local environment until the government stepped in. Because the local and federal governments are so on board with the expansion, it’s like they’re neglecting the Navajo, where one out of three doesn’t have access to clean drinking water and 40% don’t have indoor plumbing.


9 responses to “Down the Toilet”

  1. maryt0017 says :

    I found it very interesting that they are using sewage water to make the snow. No matter how much this water has been purified, it is still sewage water and contains the other things you mentioned in your post. This problem is definitely bad for the environment

  2. austinh0017 says :

    I thought that you had a great title because it really fit the topic of the post. Also I really am interested in seeing how these changes work out with the sewage as is. I mean do you think that the sewage ice will be faulty and melt faster than the other ice or just be really dirty ice? It is just pretty amazing that they can do that because I have never heard of it before.

    • alliej0017 says :

      You know, me neither. But apparently they purify the wastewater until it’s barely under the drinking water standard, and then it’s able to be used as fake snow. I think, in terms of looks, that the snow will look like natural snow colorwise and maybe a bit thinner or not as soft as natural snow. But good point. There are advantages to both fake snow and natural snow: with fake snow you can have a more reliable season and control slop grooming better, but natural snow is free. Good topic to look into.

  3. elizam0017 says :

    I think that it is kind of nasty, first of all. Secondly, I think that no matter how much it is purified, the water is still sewage water. The snow can be made in other ways. That can’t be good for the environment. I also love your title! Great job!

  4. adamw0017 says :

    First off, this just sounds completely gross. Although they are purifying the water, it is still sewage water. I love your title and how it makes you think, “where can this be going?” so you read to find out. I would like to go there to see what this snow looks like and how it would compare to normal snow.

  5. faizanb0017 says :

    Ok I would like to clear one point up. I have seen a lot of comments on this blog that say filtered sewage water is still sewage water. This is false. Once sewage water has been filtered properly, it ceases to have ANY of the toxins or impurities it once contained. This is done through many filtration processes including micro-filtration, reverse osmosis, UV radiation, hydrogen peroxide (as an anti-microbial agent), and hen mineral reintroduction. The resulting water is in most cases more pure than what you can buy at the supermarket. In fact, Singapore has started a wastewater filtration program that ends with the water being reintroduced into the market as drinking water ( This water is not impure and it is not killing of the people of Singapore through poisoning. In fact, the US, China, Vietnam, and Egypt are all looking to water reclamation as a possible solution to drinking water shortages. See for more info. on this subject.

    • alliej0017 says :

      Thanks for clearing up that issue, Faizan. However, though the treated sewage water may not technically be considered sewage, but the Navajo indians which live on the area consider the destruction and the usage of the water as a desecration to their property. While this water may be useful for other purposes, we should respect the Navajo heritage.

      • faizanb0017 says :

        I never said it was ok to dump the fake snow on Navajo land. I just said that it was not impure. I definitely think it is wrong to dump sewage water (purified or un purified) onto the sacred land of any people.

  6. isabelled0017 says :

    I love your title first of all, it really drew me in and definitely connected very well to your post. The fact that they even think about using sewer water for snow is disgusting, but genius. I know it’s treated, but if Flagstaff’s water test was right and that “treated water” still had hormones and antibiotics and steriods still in it, I can tell you I will not be skiing there, even if it does look the same. That’s gross. As far as reusing our natural resources though? “Treated” sewage water for snow is extremely smart. But all that soaking into the mountain side? Messing up that ecosystem? Not so smart anymore. Especially if it’s on the land of the Navajo’s, that’s not ok. Very interesting post! I liked it a lot.

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