Flagstaff Council rejects plan to use drinking water for snowmaking

Flagstaff, AZ – The Flagstaff City Council reached their decision after four hours of debate yesterday. that followed a public meeting that went past midnight Monday night.

The original contract calls for 1.5 million gallons of treated wastewater per day to go to the ski resort just outside Flagstaff from November through February. Several council members, including Vice Mayor Celia Barrotz, objected to the idea of using potable water for snowmaking in an arid region.

"I don't think we can say with 100% certainty that by selling Snowbowl our potable water for 20 years, will not at some point negatively impact our drinking water supply."

So councilman Al White pitched a compromise idea. He proposed allowing the ski resort to use potable water, but only for five years. After that, it would have to switch to reclaimed water. White reasoned that would be enough time for the ski area to resolve its legal issues. A federal judge has already heard arguments in a case arguing that the US Forest Service failed to sufficiently study the human health impacts of using reclaimed water to make snow. But it could take years to wind its way through the courts.

Several members of the council, including Carla Brewster, were open to the idea.

"What can we do to help our down economy as quickly as we can? What are we telling our community here business wise, we don't want you to increase, we're not going to help you retain business here?"

But that compromise failed 4 to 3. Mayor Sara Pressler objected to White's call to publicly vet his new proposal through several city commissions.

"I don't value the vetting process for the sake of just doing it, I think we've had the conversations, I think we've gone through it."

After the meeting, Snowbowl owner Eric Borowsky remained convinced there will still be snowmaking on the Peaks, but now with reclaimed water only.

"So what all the tribal people coming in and opposing this have accomplished is now there's a guarantee of using reclaimed water, greywater, will be used on the Peaks, now that is the worst possible outcome for the tribes."

But Clayson Benally, a member of the Navajo Nation, disagreed. Benally is one of the plaintiffs in the case currently in federal district court. He points out that the Hopi, Navajo and other tribes oppose snowmaking using any source of water.

"We're hoping we can heal these wounds in Flagstaff, and we can move forward to a healthy, respectful community, where we can potentially have the ski resort without snowmaking."

Borowsky, though, argues that without snowmaking, it's not a question of if Snowbowl would go out of business, but when.