Flagstaff Commits 3.6 Billion Gallons of Treated Sewage for Snowmaking on Sacred Mountain City of Administrator Shuts Public Out of Controversial Decision
For Immediate Release
August 9, 2014
FLAGSTAFF, AZ — City of Flagstaff Utility Director Brad Hill single-handedly authorized a controversial 20-year contract to extend sale of treated sewage for snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks in Northern Arizona. He refused to hear public comment preceding his decision.
“This extension amounts to committing 3.6 billion gallons of treated sewage to be sprayed on a sensitive mountain ecosystem. This is where Indigenous People pray and where children will be exposed to harmful contaminants in snow made from this effluent.” said Klee Benally, volunteer with Protect the Peaks, “This is incredibly offensive, unsustainable and ultimately irresponsible considering the escalating water crisis we’re facing in the Southwest.”
“To add insult to injury,” Mary Sojourner, Protect the Peaks volunteer, said, “I find it reprehensible that we, the public who will be affected by this decision, were not allowed to make comments; and that an open review process was not put in place.”
The decision to extend the contract was made despite pleas from local residents and Indigenous People. “This type of agreement is short sighted and unsustainable in our continuous drought situation and also shows a total lack of regard for the 13 Indigenous Nations for whom the Peaks are sacred,” said Dawn Dyer, Protect the Peaks volunteer.
On July 22, 2014, when Arizona Snowbowl was 2 years into their original 5 year contract. Snowbowl manager J.R. Murray petitioned for the twenty-year extension. The volume of treated sewage effluent provided to Snowbowl and the duration of time for snowmaking, November to February, has not been changed. The City is required to deliver Class A reclaimed water – though since it has problems at its two reclaimed water treatment plants, it is questionable if the City can consistently deliver effluent at that standard. Flagstaff’s reclaimed water also contains high amounts of selenium and other dangerous contaminants.
City officials acknowledge that reclaimed wastewater may contain antibiotic resistant bacteria and pharmaceuticals, but have no timeline for testing and mitigating these issues. It is illegal to ingest reclaimed wastewater through the eyes, mouth, ears or skin due to its fecal coliform and chemical content. In spite of this, state agencies are turning a blind eye to these facts when considering matters with Snowbowl – thus the City and state agencies are therefore putting thousands of skiers and families at risk.
Over thirteen Indigenous Nations have expressed overwhelming opposition to the use of reclaimed wastewater on the San Francisco Peaks, citing the damage it will do to medicinal plants, animals, culture, and the sanctity of this sacred site. The Forest Service, City of Flagstaff, and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality have all colluded to push snowmaking through and to ignore any voice against such action.
Currently, Flagstaff taxpayers are subsidizing Snowbowl’s reclaimed wastewater use for dirty snow. Arizona Snowbowl receives reclaimed wastewater for a fraction of the cost that city residents would, resulting in millions of dollars of Flagstaff tax payer funds subsidizing this unsustainable business, a business not even within city limits.
A council ordinance adopted in 2002 and reaffirmed by council in 2013, states that all agreements for existing treated sewage effluent customers are reviewed, approved, executed and enforced by the Utilities Director. Snowbowl manager J.R. Murray lobbied city officials to get the extension approved.
Arizona Snowbowl operates their private business on the Peaks under permit from the US Forest Service. The Forest Service approved ski area expansion and treated sewage snowmaking in 2005. The Coconino Forest Service Environmental Impact Statement (page 3-121) stated, “It is unrealistic to think that the Snowbowl would be a significant driver of tourism activity or the economy.”
The Hopi Tribe currently has a lawsuit against the City of Flagstaff to halt the sale of wastewater for snowmaking. The lawsuit asserts that the contract is not in the public’s best interest. In spite of the pending suit, the City of Flagstaff is undermining their concerns and ultimately judicial processes, which if regarded, should have put the City’s contract on hold until the lawsuit was resolved.
After years of legal battles, protests, teach-ins and more than 50 arrests resulting from protests to protect the Peaks, Snowbowl started making snow in 2012. The recent decision extends the contract through 2034.