Would You Ski on Pee?
Would you ski on Pee? J.A. (Johnny Awesome), snow-ballin' sloper who has stomped it all (or so he thought) asks "Dude, what kinda question is that?"
It's the kind of question concerned citizens in Flagstaff, Arizona are asking regarding a plan approved by the U.S. Forest Service allowing the Snowbowl Ski Resort to spray treated effluent on the San Francisco Peaks to make snow. Former Democratic Congressional Candidate, attorney Howard Shanker, is representing these citizens in the courtroom. They have filed a federal NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act) lawsuit seeking to halt the plan by the Ski Resort to pump up to one million gallons per day of wastewater up the mountain and clear-cut more than 70 acres of rare alpine habitat on public land leased from the Forest Service.
The quality of the wastewater that would be purchased from the city of Flagstaff to make snow has been questioned by many, including prominent scientists. They contend that the dangers posed by introducing this water into the ecosystem have not been adequately studied, and that the water coming out of our wastewater treatment plants is not adequately regulated.
Dr. Paul Torrence, a renowned expert in the field of bio-organic and medicinal chemistry, has been an outspoken opponent of snowmaking with Flagstaff's treated wastewater from the very beginning. One of his main concerns is the Triclosan found in this water and its link to dioxins, highly carcinogenic chemicals that can cause severe health problems such as weakening of the immune system, decreased fertility, altered sex hormones, birth defects and cancer.
Flagstaff's "treated" wastewater has also been the subject of a National Study known as the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Project. Besides the obvious bacteria and nitrates, this study found human and veterinary antibiotics, antihistamines, caffeine, codeine, oral contraceptives and other hormones, steroids, anti-seizure medications, solvents, byproducts of military explosives, disinfectants, flame retardants, insect repellents, antifreeze ingredients, pesticides and other scary stuff in Flagstaff's "reclaimed" water.
It is very scary that, in the Flagstaff Endocrine Disruptor Screening study, growing aquatic species exposed to this water did not fully develop their reproductive organs. Even more frightening is the fact that scientists nationwide are finding male fish and frogs with no reproductive organs in studies done downstream from wastewater treatment plants, including here in Colorado.
"Dang, man!" J.A. mutters. "Ski on the Pee? Not this guy!" "What happens to little Johnny Jr. when he takes his first dive off the snowboard and face-plants in that s***?"
Exactly, say the plaintiffs in this latest lawsuit against the Forest Service. They contend that the Environmental Impact Study for the snowmaking plan should have included studies of the dangers of small children (and others) ingesting snow, either accidentally or on purpose. The City of Flagstaff would post signs at the ski resort warning people not to eat the yellow snow, but that's not good enough, say these concerned citizens. "Who would want this crap to happen anyway?" asks Johnny.
Just who would benefit from this controversial project?
The investors in the Arizona Snowbowl Resort Limited Partnership (most of whom had addresses in Washington, DC, and on Park Avenue in New York last time I checked) must believe they have much to gain financially from this project, or they would have given up on it many moons ago.
The City of Flagstaff and local Chamber of Commerce are seeing dollar signs, and are working hard to promote the project. The City will take in money for every gallon of wastewater sold to the ski resort, and the Chamber believes it will see more tourism, therefore more revenue, from all of the yahoos who do want to Ski on their Pee.
Believe it or not, the U.S. Forest Service would also benefit financially. They receive a small percentage of the Snowbowl's annual revenue as part of their Lease Agreement with the ski resort.
In a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hearing in San Francisco in 2008, attorney Howard Shanker represented Native American Tribes challenging the snowmaking plan on RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) grounds. In that hearing, a three judge panel openly criticized the Forest Service's ability to receive additional revenues from the Snowbowl improvements, since approving and promoting a project that they obtain financial gain from is a big no-no for federal government agencies. The Tribes won that lawsuit, but the ruling was later challenged by the Forest Service, and overturned by an en banc panel of judges. The Tribes attempted to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009, but the Court refused to hear the case.
Jeneda Benally, a Flagstaff native and mother of two, is very concerned about the possibility of her children playing in the toxic snow. Ms. Benally is of Navajo descent, and her people have considered the San Francisco Peaks (Dook'o'osliid) sacred for centuries. This multi-tasking mom is not afraid to speak her mind. She does so regularly as a member of the rock band Blackfire, and as one of the leaders and founders of the Save the Peaks Coalition, a group formed in 2004 to educate the public about, and actively protest, the snowmaking plan. The Coalition, with members of many cultures opposing the plan for many reasons, is concerned about contamination of ground and surface water supplies, and questions the need for a ski operation such as this in the high desert, where water is scarce. In a conversation I had with her recently, Jeneda asked: "why does our government need to spend all this money, time, and energy just for the sake of one small, for-profit business?"
As our nation's economic, political, and ecological climates bomb down a slippery-slide, I also wonder why the feds are spending so much of our money and their time on this risky business that insists it must harvest toilet water to stay afloat.
As for J.A., he'll stick with the pure Colorado Powder and Keep it Real!
Author's Note: Special thanks to C.P. and K.N., my young snowboarer buddies who helped this old-fogy update her vocabulary for this article.