One of the most significant factors influencing a ski resort’s environmental impact is the use of man-made snow. An Arizona resort is trying out a somewhat unconventional method to reduce their use of fresh water for snowmaking – paving their slopes with snow made from reclaimed wastewater.
The Snowbowl Ski Resort in Flagstaff, Az. recently entered an agreement with the city to purchase 1.5 million gallons of wastewater per day from a local treatment plant for use in snowmaking.
The resort, located in the San Francisco Peaks, has struggled in the past to keep slopes safe for winter sports in seasons of unpredictable weather.
Resort officials say the use of treated wastewater is an environmentally-friendly way to keep slopes ski-ready without wasting public drinking water.
In May, construction began on a 15-mile pipeline to transport wastewater uphill from the city to a reservoir on resort grounds.
When the resort is short on snow, wastewater will be pumped into large fans, which spray out a fine mist of water droplets that are then frozen into snow.
All “yellow snow” jokes aside, the city has rallied in support of the resort – saying that the reclaimed sewage is completely safe.
The EPA agrees that wastewater is safe for humans if treated properly. But some local activists remain unconvinced that the “poo snow” is healthy for resort-goers and the environment.
Local environmentalist groups sought an injunction against pipeline construction – pointing to findings from the U.S. Geological Survey that state that even treated wastewater can contain contaminants, including organic chemicals, pharmaceuticals, hormones and industrial pollutants.
The Coconino National Forest’s environmental impact statement for the project sites the possibility of change in soil chemistry and destruction of local wildlife habitats.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied requests for injunction back in May, but attorneys for activist groups said they will seek an appeal.
Environmentalists saw support from local Native American tribes, who said the project would literally “soil” their sacred grounds.
Last week, northern Arizona’s Hopi Tribe filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of 13 tribes that worship in the inactive volcano range that is home to the resort.
The suit complains that the project would allow contaminated water to run off into wilderness areas that have been used by the Hopi Tribe for generations.
If the lawsuit is successful, it will void the wastewater contract between the city and the resort.
Petitions for injunction delayed pipeline construction, and wastewater snow is not expected to hit the slopes over the 2011-2012 season.
If all legal action is resolved, the resort expects to use the reclaimed snow by 2013.