Page 6 - the NOISE September 2012
P. 6

6 • SEPTEMBER 2012 • the NOISE arts & news magazine •
Some things in life are best enjoyed in their most pure state. A clear glass of water, perhaps, a ripe apple, a tasty peach. So too can be said about things in our immediate environment: a pure mountain stream, a desert after the rain, a forest untouched by the fodder of civilization.
Indeed, the City of Flagstaff seems to profess this idea, as in its pamphlets for visitors and newcomers to the area, it exudes: “Some of the West’s most beautiful country surrounds Flagstaff, from the alpine forests of the San Fran- cisco Peaks to the rugged deserts of neighboring Native American nations. This natural beauty, combined with world-class cultural amenities, makes Flagstaff a highly desirable destination to both visit and call home.”
The US Forest Service professes the same feeling, as in its literature, it de- clares, “The mountain is sacred to the native peoples that live in the area and its soaring profile set against a blue Arizona sky serves as a source of awe to contemporary residents and visitors.”
But these entities, through their actions — or inactions, depending on your point of view — of the past 7 years, are perpetuating a grand experiment on the San Francisco Peaks, one which may lead to generations of decay, distress, and disease. While it is true both entities retain certain sets of scientific data for reclaimed wastewater, neither provides a scientific analysis of the effects of reclaimed wastewater on a native ecosystem, and neither purports to know with certainty what will happen to the pristine San Francisco Peaks wilderness once reclaimed wastewater is introduced, as is planned this winter with Arizona Snowbowl’s use of the substance to make artificial snow.
To this writer’s knowledge, the only longitudinal studies of the effects of reclaimed wastewater on our regional ecosystem are found in two real-world scenarios at two informal locations. Continental Country Club has been ir- rigating with reclaimed wastewater since 1976. An enclave of junipers along northbound Highway 89A between Cottonwood and Sedona (milepost 365) has been irrigated with reclaimed wastewater for about 14 years.
(In contrast, Northern Arizona University has been irrigating with reclaimed wastewater only since 2003, and the City of Flagstaff’s recreation fields have been online to the reclaimed wastewater pipeline — now at a circumference around the city — since 2002).
From pure observation, a walk around a fairway at Continental Country Club will reveal healthy trees along the border of the greens — where private res- idences have irrigated with potable water, as they are not connected to the reclaimed wastewater pipeline — while those trees within direct contact of reclaimed wastewater show clear signs of distress: few cones, bare tops, and dying limbs. And according to personal reports from residents who live on the greens, country club groundskeepers have removed several dead trees of no- table size in recent years.
Conjecture could hint that since these trees were watered more regularly and with greater quantities than their off-the-greens counterparts, that they would be healthier, less prone to disease, and maintain growth at an accelerat- ed rate. As this is not the case, one must then look for a common denominator.
At the stand of juniper along Highway 89A, one may witness a strange anom- aly: an inner circle of trees with few or no berries, distressed tops and yellow fo- liage, while the outer circumference of trees is green with berries. Upon closer inspection, it is revealed the yellow trees are in the direct sprayline of Sedona’s reclaimed wastewater irrigation pipeline. Surveying the expanded area, one may also note where the pipeline has been moved by not only worn tracks in the high desert soil, but a zigzag line of visibly unhealthy junipers. Ranchers in the area have reported their cows steer clear of this neck of the woods. Peering out at the other side of the highway, where reclaimed wastewater irrigation is not a factor, the junipers appear as one might expect in their native surround- ing, dotting the hills with spots of green for unending miles.
Despite numerous calls and emails to the Arizona Department of Envi- ronmental Quality, which is the authorizing agent for the use of reclaimed wastewater, no other explanation has been forthcoming — from either Senior Hydrologist Charles Graff, Media Director Mark Schaffer, or Director Henry Darwin. By the power of simple deduction, one could say that in both these real-world encounters with native trees and reclaimed wastewater, there are indeed ill effects of the latter on the former.
Just as the City of Flagstaff relies on the determination by ADEQ that re- claimed wastewater is safe for irrigation, so too does the Forest Service that reclaimed wastewater is safe for snowmaking. And while all three agencies are also bound by the Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Water Act, and Executive Order 12898 — stating that the US government shall achieve “envi- ronmental justice” by “identifying and addressing ... high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs” — neither has engaged in any scientific analysis which could dispute this claim.
Reclaimed wastewater is more than just water, that is, it is more than two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. It is a combination of several organic elements, plus several chemical compounds — all of which remain, despite thorough filtering at a treatment plant.
To give a rudimentary example of the stuff that’s in reclaimed wastewater, this writer boiled down three pots of water: one of A+ reclaimed wastewater from the City of Flagstaff’s Wildcat Treatment Plant, one of spring water from the spigot along Oak Creek Canyon, and one of potable water from a Clarkdale faucet. The boil-down revealed a limited white crust from the Oak Creek water, a fair amount of white crust from the potable water, and a thick brown crust from the reclaimed wastewater.
Because of the presence of elements and compounds visible from the “browning,” reclaimed wastewater carries with it a salinity which native plants may not be accustomed to, and may in fact be the underlying protagonist to
the death and distress of the conifers mentioned above.

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