The City of Flagstaff's contract to convert 18 million gallons of wastewater into artificial snow for skiing on San Francisco Peaks should be a no-go, the Hopi Tribe told city officials on February 23.
“It is our responsibility as stewards for the Hopi way of life to make sure that all sacred sites are protected on behalf of our people and to the values and beliefs of our Hopi people,” Hopi chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa said in requesting that the City of Flagstaff cancel its contract for the sale of reclaimed water to make artificial snow at the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort on San Francisco Peaks.
“The San Francisco Peaks are of central importance to the Hopi tradition and religion,” the tribal administration said in a press release. “There is a direct relationship between the Hopi way of life and the environment, including the Peaks.”
The Snowbowl private ski resort lies on leased Forest Service lands on the Peaks, sacred to at least 13 tribal nations that attempted to halt the use of the treated sewage effluent over a period of years, unsuccessfully citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and traditional law in their efforts to protect the area.
The water destined for Snowbowl use is reclaimed water that is not used for drinking but for such uses as watering golf courses, and may total 18 million gallons or more per year, the statement said.
“The San Francisco Peaks area supports fragile and important ecosystems and is home to numerous species of plants and animals that may be harmed by the reclaimed water and the contaminants it contains,” the tribe said. “The Hopi Tribe has a special interest in many of these species and is acting to protect them through its request that the city cancel the contract for sale of reclaimed water to Snowbowl.”
Flagstaff officials decided not to amend or cancel the reclaimed water contract in September 2010.
Ben Nuvamsa, a former tribal chairman and advocate for the Peaks’ preservation, said a full environmental impact statement should be prepared before Snowbowl plans proceed.
“The San Francisco Peaks (Nuvatukyaovi) is a sacred mountain to the Hopi and many other tribes in the region,” Nuvamsa said. “To desecrate it for economic gain goes against our teachings. The federal government has, once again, turned away from its responsibility and obligation to protect our natural resources and our right to exercise our religion.
“We are the first people in this area. We revered Nuvatukyaovi as the home of our Katsinam since time immemorial. It is clear there are environmental rules that the U.S. Forest Service, City of Flagstaff and the operators of Snowbowl Ski Resort have and are violating—so there must be a full EIS conducted before Snowbowl can proceed further with its plans,” Nuvamsa said.
The Hopi Tribe’s statement said the contract between the city and Snowbowl “violates several provisions of Arizona law that govern proper use of reclaimed water” and will harm the environment, including endangering sensitive species.
Reclaimed water “is known to contain a variety of contaminants, including a class of chemicals known as endocrine disruptors which can interfere with natural hormone levels and processes in humans and animals,” the release states, noting in particular “amphibians, fish and other animals with porous skins” that are sensitive to environmental contaminants.