1704 N. 2nd St. Occupied Lands, Flagstaff, AZ 86004

District Court to Hear Arguments Over Sewage Effluent Snowmaking Scheme on Peaks

UPDATE: COURT DATE MOVED TO JULY 16 – Read the News Release Here.

Phoenix, AZ—At 1:30 p.m. (MST-AZ) on Monday, June 14th a U.S. District Court Judge will hear oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the proposed use of treated sewage effluent on the San Francisco Peaks located in Northern Arizona. This case  addresses whether or not a private, for-profit business, Arizona Snowbowl Resort Limited Partnership (ASR), which operates on public land managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS), will be permitted to make fake snow using treated sewage water. The current legal challenge has forced the ski business to agree not to begin development.

The case known as The Save the Peaks Coalition, et al. v. U.S. Forest Service will be heard before Honorable Judge Mary H. Murguia. The suit asserts, among other things, that the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) prepared by the USFS ignores the possibility of human ingestion of snow made from treated sewage effluent.

According to Howard Shanker, attorney for the Save the Peaks Coalition and the other plaintiffs,
“The Forest Service failed to adequately consider the impacts of potential human ingestion of snow made from reclaimed sewer water as required by applicable law. Our government should not be approving such projects without some sort of understanding of the anticipated impacts. By approving treated sewage effluent for snow making without adequate analysis, the government essentially turns the ski area into a test facility with our children as the laboratory rats. That is unconscionable.” Mr. Shanker, a former congressional candidate in Arizona Congressional District 1, represented a number of tribes and environmental organizations in prior litigation over Snowbowl’s proposed expansion and threatened use of treated sewage effluent.

Arizona Department of Environmental Quality regulations allow A+ class treated sewer water to contain fecal matter in three out of seven daily samples (R18-11-303 2a). Moreover, studies done by Dr. Catherine Propper, Professor of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, on this same treated sewer water have concluded the waste water contains pharmaceuticals, hormones, endocrine disruptors, industrial pollutants like pesticides and herbicides, and narcotics. Additionally, according to biologist Dr. Paul Torrence the treated sewage effluent may also contain antibiotics, such as triclosan and triclocarban which can break down into bio-accumulating cancerous dioxins when exposed to the high altitude sunlight of the peaks. There have also been documented cases of treated sewage released into the Colorado river that have caused numerous outbreaks of norovirus among Grand Canyon rafters. Plaintiffs involved in this ongoing  lawsuit have consistently insisted that the USFS take a hard look at what might happen to the people when they come in contact with or ingest snow made from treated sewage effluent.
Under the National Environmental Policy Act, the USFS is obligated to consider these types of potential impacts on the quality of the human environment. In 2007 a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court found that the USFS failed to adequately consider the possibility of human ingestion of snow made from treated sewage effluent. In Judge William Fletcher’s opinion, he concludes “the FEIS does not contain a reasonably thorough discussion of the risks posed by possible human ingestion of artificial snow made from treated sewage effluent, and does not articulate why such discussion is unnecessary.” The holding of the three-judge panel was later overturned on a technicality by an en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit.

Despite these public health threats and widespread public opposition to ASR’s proposed development, the City of Flagstaff maintains a contract to sell up to 180 million gallons of treated sewage to ARS. Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl have also attempted to pressure the USFS to move the plans forward. McCain even threatened to roadblock Obama appointees to the Department of Agriculture if ASR was not allowed to begin construction for snowmaking with reclaimed sewer water immediately.

“It’s disturbing to know that our elected officials care more about a single for profit business’ interests than public health, ecological integrity, and religious freedom” said Berta Benally, a plaintiff in the case and a volunteer supporter of the Save the Peaks Coalition. Berta Benally continued, “These politicians are completely disconnected from our community. Would they endanger their own children’s health by putting them at risk of being immersed in fake snow made from recycled sewage?”

Even Arizona Congresswoman (CD1) Anne Kirkpatrick’s endorsement of using subsidized taxpayer funds to divert scarce freshwater resources toward snowmaking has come under criticism from local environmental groups and Indigenous Nations.

“The City of Flagstaff is trying desperately to find a new water source based on projections that there will not be enough fresh water to sustain us by 2050. I wonder if it is smart choice for Representative Kirkpatrick to subsidize the theft of clean drinking water from our grandchildren’s mouths” said Avi Henn, Graduate Student in Environmental Sciences at NAU.

Volunteer supporters of the Save the Peaks Coalition are organizing a caravan from Northern Arizona, and rally and march at the Sandra Day O’Conner Federal Court House in Phoenix on June 14th.

“We want to build public awareness and participation in the protection of public health and ecological integrity of the Holy San Francisco Peaks” stated Alberta Nells, a volunteer supporter of the Save the Peaks Coalition. “We are working with local environmental groups, Indigenous Nations and concerned citizens to promote a unified voice for environmental justice, cultural survival and sacred sites.” The San Francisco Peaks are held holy by more than 13 Indigenous Nations from throughout the Southwestern United States.

For a full background, legal documents, photos, and further information on the Save the Peaks Coalition please visit: www.savethepeaks.org.

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