Hopi Indians oppose recycled wastewater for Arizona skiers

A ski area in the US state of Arizona hopes to become the latest in a small number of resorts using “recycled” sewer water to make snow. But the Hopi Indian tribe aims to stop what they describe as the desecration of their sacred mountain.

The San Francisco Peaks tower over the baking Arizona desert. Stands of white barked aspens, spruce and ponderosa pines dot the high tundra landscape, and the mountain is the highest in the state.

The writer must never have been there. This is near Flagstaff and one of the greenest parts of the state.

The US Forest Service, which manages the land, recommends it for hikers seeking solitude in the wilderness. The mountain is a holy entity for the Hopi and other Indian tribes who lived in the area centuries before Europeans arrived.

On the mountain’s western face lies the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort, a narrow 777-acre block of land poking 10,000ft (3,048m) into the wilderness area, which surrounds it on three sides.

People have been skiing there since 1938. But Arizona is one of the driest states in the US, and a recent run of dry winters has left the operators scrambling to find water to make artificial snow to keep skiers – and their dollars – on the slopes.

The resort’s owners, who manage the resort under an agreement with the US government, are embroiled in a row with the Hopi Indian tribe, which has filed a lawsuit to stop Snowbowl’s plan to pump highly treated wastewater from the nearby city of Flagstaff up the ski runs to make artificial snow.

The Hopi say spraying treated wastewater on the mountain – even just within the boundaries of the ski resort – would irreparably sully it and threaten their ability to carry out their religious rites among the peaks. And they say it would defile the pristine wilderness for all those who want to enjoy it without skis on.

I’m not going to waste space on the myths of religious beliefs which wholly ignore science and scientific testing. Recycling wastewater is a successful process worldwide. It’s such a standard in the world of recycling that the topic is boring.

What do you think astronauts drink?

The Santa Fe River running through the bosque behind our back meadow is downstream from and fed by a wastewater recycling process at the outlet end of Santa Fe’s waste treatment system. It’s been providing water safe enough for farming for years. Our wells are checked periodically and they are safe and fine. Farms downstream in La Bajada produce vegetables that are tested safe, indistinguishable from vegetables from any other part of the state in terms of contaminants. We might worry a little about uranium; but – that’s a different question.

Solve the Hopi worries the same way they have always been solved. Give them a percentage of the business. That may be cold; but, it’s pretty much acceptable to all the Native American nations in the region. Usually the only question is which tribe gets the fees.