San Francisco Peaks seen from O'Leary Lookout

Save the Peaks Coalition Continues to Fight Reclaimed Wastewater

Carol Berry

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.”

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garychandler's picture
Submitted by garychandler on
Snowbowl Or Toilet Bowl? It seems that someone is failing to account for prions in sewage. Prions are a form of deadly protein that builds up in the cells and bodily fluids of people and animals afflicted with various forms of prion disease, including mad cow disease, chronic wasting disease, scrapie, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Prions now are such a formidable threat that the United States government enacted the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 to halt research on infectious prions in the United States in all but two laboratories. Now, infectious prions are classified as select agents that require special security clearance for lab research. The intent is to keep prions and other dangerous biological materials away from terrorists who might use them to contaminate, food, water, blood, equipment, and entire facilities. Dr. Stanley Prusiner earned a Nobel Prize in 1997 for identifying and studying deadly prions. President Obama awarded Prusiner the National Medal of Science in 2010 to recognize the growing significance of his discovery. We now know that various forms of prion disease are already spreading around the world. Prion disease has been found in livestock and a variety of wildlife species across the U.S. and Canada. The prion pathogen spreads through urine, feces, saliva, blood, milk, soil, and the tissue of infected animals (not to mention soil and water). With those attributes, prions obviously can migrate through surface water runoff and settle in groundwater, lakes, oceans, and water reservoirs. If prions must be regulated in a laboratory environment today, the outdoor environment should be managed accordingly. Unless Flagstaff and Snowbowl can guarantee that not one person with prion disease has ever used a toilet in Flagstaff, this seems to be a misguided plan that places profits over people and the planet. Also seems to be a sad example of hypocrisy. Don't turn Snowbowl into a toilet bowl.