Page 14 - the Noise December 2017
P. 14

by kyle boggs
A Primer for the PerPlexed
After delaying its seasonal opening twice due to warm weather, on Tuesday, November . 21, the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort was able to muster enough man-made snow to produce one yellow-tinged run. While skier and snowboarder attendance was sparse, recreationists and Snowbowl employees were met with more than a dozen “sacred sites protectors,” whose presence drew the public’s attention back to what has been a multi-gen- erational indigenous-led resistance against past and ongoing development at the resort; most recently, and most contentiously, the resort’s use of municipal reclaimed wastewater — sold to the resort from the City of Flagstaff — to make snow.
Demonstrators gathered at the base of the run and performed a mock “quarantine” action in hazmat suits with banners and caution tape to reaffirm their stance that the resort’s deci- sion to use 100% municipal reclaimed wastewater to make snow — approved by the United States Forest Service, and sanctioned by the City of Flagstaff — remains unacceptable.
“Even though I knew about the treated sewage used to make snow at Snowbowl, I was shocked when I looked at the snow and saw this yellow tinge,” said demonstrator Crystal Zevon. “I thought my eyes were deceiving me, or maybe a dog had peed in the snow. But, I looked further, and sure enough, that snow has a yellow tint when the sun hits it. I grew up skiing in Colorado, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Although some resorts may use a percentage of municipal reclaimed wastewater to make snow, Snowbowl remains the only resort in the world that uses 100% reclaimed wastewater. As the winters become warmer, water becomes scarcer, and demand for winter sports con- tinues to increase, Snowbowl set a precedent other resorts now seek to follow.
A 2009 lawsuit, brought on by the Save the Peaks Coalition and a group of citizens who were concerned with human health and exposure to the snow, sought to challenge this decision, or at the very least, force the Forest Service to test the content of the water to reassure the public. The Forest Service initially approved the decision to use the City’s wastewater to make snow by defaulting to Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s filtration processes and procedural rules regarding usage.
The research of Northern Arizona University biologist Dr. Catherine Propper suggest the presence of pharmaceuticals commonly found in wastewater have proven to disrupt the body’s endocrine system. Now-retired toxicologist Paul Torrance proved that some com- pounds commonly found in wastewater may become more dangerous because of the cur- rent treatment process. The FDA’s 2016 decision to finally ban the use of triclosan in the US was due, in part, to his research, which demonstrated that triclosan becomes a dioxin when exposed to UV light, and it becomes chloroform when mixed with chloride — both of which take place during the wastewater treatment process in Arizona. This research was enough to cause legitimate concern over what might be in the water, and what effects there might be not only on the local ecosystem, but the humans who come into contact with it, after skiing or playing in it.
The lawsuit claimed that the amended process for turning raw sewage into reclaimed wastewater still doesn’t adequately take into account the pharmaceutical and industrial compounds that have been introduced into the water supply since the process was initially adopted in the late 1980s. The Forest Service won this lawsuit, therefore the water has never been rigorously tested for those agents which the state is not mandated to test.
Reclaimed wastewater is not one homogenous thing; the laws dictating filtration process and usage vary state by state. Some municipalities, such as Orange County, California, have turned to drinking “recycled water.” However, this water is filtered through a sophisticated and costly reverse osmosis system, and the end result is much different than what Arizona calls “A+ reclaimed wastewater,” which is actually illegal to consume. “Immersion” in reclaimed wastewater, according to ADEQ, is also an illegal use. Arizona courts, however,
ruled specifically for Snowbowl, that a skier who face plants into the snow does not constitute “immersion.”
The strip of tinted snow on opening day was also a reminder of the relationships tar- nished over time. “No desecration for recreation!” the demonstrators yelled in unison as po- lice approached. At least 13 regional tribes regard the Peaks as sacred, it’s ecological health has been articulated time and again as integral to their cultural and spiritual survival. The Peaks are woven into origin stories, there are undisclosed locations for shrines where, for millennia, prayers and offerings have been given, and places where ceremonial and medici- nal plants have been gathered — some of which don’t grow anywhere else in the world.
“This mountain is our church, Snowbowl’s opening today and the threat of arrest for ‘trespassing’ was another reminder that we do not have religious freedom as indigenous peoples in our own lands,” said Klee Benally, a volunteer with Protect the Peaks. This claim was a reaffirmation of what Mr. Benally already learned in 2006, when the courts ruled in favor of the Forest Service and Arizona Snowbowl, and against the Navajo Nation and the 13 tribes who brought suit.
In the lengthy court battle, the initial ruling against the Navajo Nation was overturned by a three-judge panel at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who subsequently ruled in the tribes’ favor, citing that wastewater developments at Snowbowl infringed on the tribes’ rights to express religious freedom. The case was appealed to an en banc panel of judges at the 9th Circuit, a rare hearing granted to less than 9% of cases, which reversed the decision again, ruling in favor of the Forest Service and Arizona Snowbowl.
The United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Snowbowl is surrounded by a Wilderness Area on the San Francisco Peaks, and operates there through a Forest Service Special Use Permit that must be renewed every so often. The Forest Service is mandated to balance multiple uses of the forest, as per the Multiple Use and Sustained Yield Act of 1960, in terms of logging, mining, grazing, and also recreation. That the Forest Service is apparently mandated to provide recreational opportunities on so-called public land is one of the main arguments trotted out in favor of the developments at Snowbowl.
Such statements, however, forestall debate over how the Forest Service, and by ex- tension the US government, came into possession of the mountain to begin with. While connections between settler colonialism and resource extraction have been discussed at length in decades of research — from books and articles, to documentaries — and while this attention hasn’t exactly translated into meaningful policy decisions or reparations, con- nections between settler colonialism and the ever-expanding outdoor recreation industry has largely escaped this critique; as recreation is often regarded as apolitical and innocent. From a philosophical perspective, the controversy over development on the San Francisco Peaks does, however, constitute the process of theft, exclusion, and marginalization that often mirrors cultural genocide in other contexts.
“This is a clear example of continued colonialism,” said demonstrator Maile Hampton. “What’s happening is Dook’o’oosłiid, a sacred mountain to many Indigenous Peoples in this area, is being desecrated by this Snowbowl company.” Arizona Snowbowl, once an Arizona- based company, was sold to a Colorado corporation less than a year after wastewater pip- ing went in. Operated by members of the Coleman Lantern family, it also operates multiple ski areas throughout the Southwest.
“We were there to try to stop the desecration of our sacred mountain where our prayers and ceremonies are held,” stated Dustin Wero. “Being Diné, our instinct is to defend the sacred.”
14 • DECEMBER 2017 | the NOISE arts & news |
above: activists with Protect the Peaks rally at arizona snowbowl last month. | Photos by d. wero

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