After a Dec. 27 inspection at Arizona Snowbowl atop the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff, officials from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) ruled on Jan. 28 that snowmaking is an allowable use for reclaimed wastewater.
ADEQ conducted the inspection at Snowbowl to determine if the ski resort was in compliance with state laws and administrative codes. The Flagstaff City Council unanimously agreed to investigate possible violations after Flagstaff residents and True Snow founders Rudy Preston and Katie Nelson brought possible violations to the council's attention.
This is the most recent attempt to block Snowbowl from making snow with reclaimed wastewater.
Preston and Nelson argued that Snowbowl violated state and city laws because they say skiing and recreational activities are not allowed as part of a direct reuse of treated sewage effluent. Only snowmaking is permitted as a direct reuse of treated sewage effluent.
However, in a letter to Flagstaff City Manager Kevin Burke, Michael Fulton, director of the Water Quality Division of ADEQ said that "ADEQ does not consider skiing on snow to be a full immersion water activity that has potential for ingestion like swimming, wind surfing, or water skiing."
Fulton added that ADEQ anticipated that snow made with reclaimed wastewater would be used for skiing and considers snowmaking an acceptable use of Class A and A+ reclaimed water.
Preston also said Arizona Snowbowl violated its contract with the city because of a lack of prominently placed signs alerting the public to the use of reclaimed water.
ADEQ has required Snowbowl to improve signage at the resort.
Since the Dec. 27 inspection, employees from Arizona Snowbowl have posted required signage on snowmaking machines and have voluntarily posted additional signage at lift ticket offices, information boards, public areas, on the back of lift tickets and on the transmission pipeline conveyance from the city of Flagstaff to Snowbowl.
ADEQ also required the service connection piping to the snowmaking machines to read "Caution: Reclaimed Water, Do Not Drink."
However, proper signage in compliance with state law may still not be enough to satisfy opponents.
"Allowing water to get into an eating area is a major violation, not having signage on the hose bibs and the hoses themselves and not having the hoses the right color is actually a major violation of the law," Preston said. "Those they can't just fix on the spot, citations have to be issued and processes need to be followed. No court has ever ruled on whether this water is healthy to ski on, they've always managed to find a technicality that left them not having to make any ruling at all. The law says they can't do this, they're doing it, what gives?"
Arizona Snowbowl General Manager J.R. Murray assured ADEQ that the ski resort will take steps next year to avoid making yellow stained snow caused by rust forming on the interior of distribution pipes. The yellow stained snow caused concern when it was discovered around the Christmas holiday during the season's first snowmaking.
"That was predictable and we knew exactly what it would be and everybody knows that that was just the rust from inside the pipe, we anticipated it," Murray said. "The water coming from the city is crystal clear and that was just the rinsing of the pipes and it's already over with. It's no longer an issue, we're totally compliant."
Murray added that the signage issue was more about specific words and the locations of properly worded signs. He said that issue has been fully resolved as well.