No one will be passing the peace pipe anytime soon, judging from the battle cries at the Aug. 30 Flagstaff City Council meeting. The issue: using reclaimed or potable recycled water to make snow at Arizona's Snowbowl ski hill. The parties: Arizona Snowbowl and local Indian tribes.
Tribal leaders have battled the ski area for 20 years in an effort to protect their sacred hills. Hopi, Navajo, and 11 other tribes in the region trace their heritage to the 12,000-foot-high San Francisco Peaks, two hours from Phoenix. They consider riding on those slopes sacrilege. Now, leaders are about to lose it over a plan to spray the mountain with water that has essentially flowed through morgues, hospitals, and kitchen sinks. Flagstaff agreed that the water should be "class A-plus reclaimed water" during ski season but that didn't appease the tribes.
The motto of the Protect Sacred Sites Organization is: "Our sacred land is NOT your playground."
Resort owners already have a contract (upheld in 2009 by the U.S. Supreme Court) that allows the city to sell them reclaimed water for snowmaking. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service reviewed a 600-page study and approved the plan in 2005. But the ruling wasn't good enough for the tribes and they pressed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to direct the Forest Service to hold off issuing a construction permit so both sides could spend time discussing the situation. The resort must wait until the council votes.
The most recent council meeting drew near record crowds with the public drawing harsh lines in the snow. Hopi, Navajo, and Havasupi tribal representatives are united against snowmaking. At this point it doesn't matter to them where the water came from, just that it didn't come from natural clouds. Owner Eric Borowsky needs that water, natural or not. A bare winter created a four-day ski season with 2,857 skiers total in 2001-02. That kind of turn-out doesn't help a ski resort or the surrounding city's economy.
"If you don't have snowmaking, the question is not if you will go out of business; it's when you will go out of business," he told the Arizona Daily Sun. "We only occupy 1 percent of the peaks. Can't we share this?"
The City Council voted on Thursday, Sept. 2 to reaffirm the contract to sell treated wastewater to the area, effectively keeping the legal battle going.