Save the Peaks Coalition Continues to Fight Reclaimed Wastewater


This article has been corrected.

The Save the Peaks Coalition March 9 filed a petition for a rehearing en banc in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, a three-judge panel of which in February ruled against the Coalition. The organization contended that under federal environmental and administrative law, the Forest Service failed to adequately consider the impacts of ingesting snow made from reclaimed sewer water in its federally mandated environmental review process.

“The fact that the federal government is championing the use of reclaimed sewer water, despite the potential risks to public health and safety, on a site that is sacred and holy to 13 of the tribes in the southwestern United States does not say much for the federal government’s values and priorities,” said Howard Shanker, attorney for the Coalition.

The ongoing conflict was part of a related issue of lack of trust between tribes and the city of Flagstaff, which renewed a five-year contract to sell up to 180 million gallons of treated sewage effluent to the ski resort despite an alleged lack of required tribal consultation and against the vigorous opposition of tribes for whom the Peaks are sacred, the coalition maintains.

Although a Flagstaff official told the NNHRC March 6 that the wastewater contract was tentatively scheduled for review March 20, the organization found that the contract had in fact been signed March 8 and the information withheld until a press conference had been conducted.

“The city of Flagstaff sits to the south at the base of Dook’o’o’sliid. If there are claims of ignorance about current events in the city government that Indigenous Peoples and indigenous nations oppose reclaimed water on the San Francisco Peaks, then that may be a poor excuse,” said the NNHRC, pointing to widespread media coverage of the issues.

The Peaks are Nuvatukya’ovi to the Hopi, whose chairman, LeRoy Shingoitewa, said they are “a sacred and special place to many Native Americans and we are obligated to protect this area. Reclaimed wastewater is an unsafe byproduct of the city’s wastewater system.”

An economic analysis released by the Hopi Tribe showed a proposed expansion by Snowbowl and the use of reclaimed wastewater would “not provide a measurable or significant impact to the Flagstaff region’s economy” and the report “confirms what the tribe has repeatedly asserted (that) the proposed expansion and use of reclaimed wastewater on a sacred place, the San Francisco Peaks, is not in the public’s best interest.”