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.