A non-partisan, neutral perspective supporting diversity in the color of water

Monday, July 19, 2010

No Purplewater for Purple Mountain Majesties?

One often reads of the clever and innovative uses for reclaimed wastewater. Most focus on space irrigation, but snowmaking has come to the fore in mountain regions. Take for example, the wonderful ski area located near Flagstaff on the San Francisco Peaks. This article in Indian Country Today describes the situation where "Navajo medicine men and women urge all tribal nations to stand in solidarity with their prayers to protect the holy San Francisco Peaks and to support the litigants who will be challenging Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort’s use of sewage wastewater for snowmaking development on Friday, July 20 at 1 p.m. in the United States District Court before the Honorable Mary H. Murguia at 401 W. Washington St. in Phoenix, Ariz".

The issues?

Historically the San Francisco Peaks are held very sacred to more than 13 tribes in the Southwestern United States. The proposed activities by Arizona Snowbowl and the U.S. Forest Service will continue to desecrate the religious and spiritual significance of our holy San Francisco Peaks,” said David Johns, acting president of the DinĂ© Hataalii Association.

The upcoming U.S. District court case, Save the Peaks Coalition v. U.S. Forest Service, will hear oral arguments on the potential public health risks of human ingestion of reclaimed wastewater snow and the U.S. Forest Service’s lack of adequate public health and safety research. Effluent wastewater can contain pharmaceuticals, hormones, endocrine disruptors, industrial pollutants, and narcotics that could be dangerous to native plant habitats, wildlife and humans.


I worked as a research assistant on a regional groundwater study in this area back in 1980 for well-known Grand Canyon groundwater hydrologist Dr. Peter Huntoon. The study showed that the San Francisco Peaks area served as the recharge area for the Coconino Sandstone and Redwall Limestone aquifers which ultimately drained into the Little Colorado River, another area of religious and spiritual significance for the tribes. My guess is their argument might also include this information, too.

Water reuse, in all its forms, poses an interesting research question for cultural hydro-anthropologists. For the Arizona Snowbowl situation, it comes down to what is valued more - mining the freshwater aquifers in the region to service the values associated with recreation, or finding common ground on reclaimed water and the tribes to preserve the spiritual values of the peaks.

One option might be managed recharge if the US reconsiders the treatment requirements of Underground Injection Control programs, much like the clever Australians have with their underground storage and recovery of water where they recognize that some of the final treatment of the water occurs while the water is stored underground. Even if this option was acceptable there will probably be the need for some signs.

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