KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. – On Friday, August 19, 2011, the Hopi Tribe filed a lawsuit against the City of Flagstaff in Arizona Superior Court in Coconino County challenging the City’s decision in September 2010 not to amend or cancel the contract for the sale of reclaimed wastewater to the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort (“Snowbowl”) for snowmaking.
The lawsuit states that the City’s contract to sell 1.5 million gallons of reclaimed wastewater per day to Snowbowl is illegal because it violates several Arizona laws that govern the proper use of reclaimed wastewater. The contract provides for the use of reclaimed wastewater in a mountain setting where runoff and overspray cannot be prevented, as Arizona law requires. Additionally, restrictions on limiting human contact with wastewater cannot be met, and harm to the unique alpine environment in the area, including rare animals and plants, cannot be prevented. The contract is also illegal under Arizona law because it will result in unreasonable environmental degradation and will further deplete limited drinking water resources. As stated in the complaint, the use of reclaimed wastewater for snowmaking will unreasonably harm the environment, create a public nuisance, and infringe upon the public’s, including the Hopi Tribe’s, use and enjoyment of the area around Snowbowl as well as infringe on the Hopi Tribe’s reserved water rights.
The City’s sale of reclaimed wastewater to the Snowbowl will cover a portion of the San Francisco Peaks with artificial snow made from reclaimed wastewater. The San Francisco Peaks, and in particular Snowbowl, is ecologically unique and contains rare types of habitat and species. The City’s illegal contract allows wastewater to run off and spray into wilderness areas specifically used by the Hopi Tribe and others, impeding and infringing on the use and enjoyment of these areas by the Hopi Tribe and others.
Reclaimed wastewater is water that has been used and processed through the City’s wastewater system. Snowmelt from artificial snow made from reclaimed wastewater will be environmentally harmful because it contains chemicals including endocrine disruptors, which can interfere with natural hormone levels and processes in humans and animals. Negative impacts of endocrine disrupters include aberrant sexual development, behavioral and reproductive problems. Key species in the San Francisco Peaks ecosystem, such as frogs, are particularly susceptible to these harmful effects.
The Hopi Tribe will show that the illegal contract for the sale and use of reclaimed wastewater at Snowbowl will result in a very large net economic loss for the San Francisco Peaks community. The small increase in profits anticipated by the Snowbowl and minimal economic benefits to the area are far outweighed by much higher costs, including environmental damage, for the San Francisco Peaks’ community, including the Hopi Tribe. The effects of the reclaimed wastewater cannot be confined to the ski area and, therefore, users of the Peaks in the vital and accessible areas around Snowbowl will be harmed if the illegal contract is allowed to stand. The Hopi Tribe seeks a judicial order prohibiting performance on this contract to sell reclaimed wastewater to Snowbowl, as the contract is for an illegal purpose and contrary to public policy.
The Hopi Tribe Chairman Leroy Shingoitewa stressed the importance of the case to the Hopi Tribe: “the health and safety of the Hopi people is indistinguishable from the health and safety of the environment — protection of the environment on the San Francisco Peaks is central to the Tribe’s existence. The use of reclaimed sewage on the San Francisco Peaks as planned by the City of Flagstaff and Snowbowl will have a direct negative impact on the Hopi Tribe’s frequent and vital uses of the Peaks.”