The Hopi Tribe filed suit Wednesday in federal court in the District of Columbia, seeking an injunction to block snowmaking with reclaimed wastewater at Arizona Snowbowl this winter because of a threatened plant.

The case has been assigned to a judge, but there has been no decision at this point as to whether the lawsuit could delay snowmaking at Snowbowl.

The tribe contends the Coconino National Forest didn't adequately consider some of the compounds found in the treated effluent and the possibility that the snow could blow more than 1,000 yards in low winds onto endangered plants.

"Snow transport from the proposed snowmaking will cause an increase in nitrogen, phosphorus and moisture available to areas outside the ski area, increasing the potential for colonization by invasive plant species," the tribe stated in its suit, filed by Washington, D.C. attorney Michael Goodstein.

"I'm sure this is a last-ditch effort to try to stop us. Our focus is on preparing for the ski season. And I'm sure that this, too, will take its course," said Snowbowl General Manager J.R. Murray.

Snowbowl has said it intends to have its snowmaking system up and running in time to open by Christmas, if needed.

The suit asserts that some of the remnants in the wastewater could essentially give other plants a competitive advantage over the San Francisco Peaks Ragwort, a plant found only above 10,900 feet on the Peaks and federally listed as threatened.

The Coconino National Forest looked at the issue of snowmaking and the ragwort in 2004 and found that there wasn't a biological concern because "there will be no snowmaking in any areas where there are any known plant populations."

The Hopi Tribe sued the city of Flagstaff regarding its sale of reclaimed water to Snowbowl and lost on multiple arguments.

It also hired SWCA Environmental Consultants to look at the project, and SWCA found that the agency had failed to account for wind in its analysis.

"There's the potential for this sewage-effluent-made snow to drift and to blow in high-wind periods into the area for the San Francisco Peaks Ragwort," said Steven Carothers, founder of SWCA.

Reclaimed water could be bad if it gives grasses or other plants in that cold, alpine terrain an advantage in outgrowing the ragwort, he said. "The water has over twice as much background nitrogen in it, and phosphorus, and nitrogen and phosphorus are the basic ingredients in fertilizers," he said.

The tribe raised this complaint repeatedly, and again in April.

The Coconino National Forest began looking to see whether it thought the potential impact to the plant was an issue, but has yet to make a determination.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency responsible for oversight of rare and endangered species, must also make a decision about whether snowmaking probably won't affect the plant, might, or probably will.

As of Thursday, the Coconino National Forest was actually looking at whether it thought snowmaking was likely or unlikely to affect the plant, but it declined comment due to pending litigation.

Cyndy Cole can be reached at or at 913-8607.

(6) comments


How many more times will this have to go to court? It's time we face the facts. This earth is still using the very same water that it had when it was created. It has ALL been through the dinosaur a few times. In most cases, reuse water is actually cleaner than the water that enters a drinking water treatment plant. I should know. I have run drinking water treatment plants in 2 states. These people have lost in court on numerous occasions. They need to get over it.


If Snowbowl was owned and operated by a tribe or if the land was on a community's reservation, they would've been blowing snow years ago. BUT, since profits aren't going to a specific community, people have to protest this. The state and city have to police everything that is happening in our community, so allowing something to operate, that would be detrimental to our environment is UNLIKELY. All the pros and cons have been diagnosed, and it's the states duty to keep us ALL in good health.


Are these people being billed for taking this back to court AGAIN? Maybe if that were to happen they would stop. It's already been decided, they're going to make snow at the Snowbowl. Get over it. Your dumb little wall paintings (in an alley, behind a bar...) and all the paper fliers you've put out (which made such a mess it kinda counters what your crying about) isn't going to change it.


Glad to see the usual rundown of strawman arguments and other logical fallacies that are always lined up for supporting the ongoing oppression of indigenous people. Don't agree with the religious freedom of the people whose land we're on? Say reservations are dirt. Does their tribe plan to build a casino over the strenuous objection of their citizens and traditional members? Great! We've got the "casino" argument now! And the dirt goes on and on and on...


As a young child growing up on the Navajo Reservation my mother would tell me creation stories of where i come from and i come from Dookoosliid ( San Francisco Peaks). Reclaimed waste water is what u may drink but i drink from the natural springs that are hidden within our canyons. We haul water while u turn the faucet on. I give thanks to that mountain for protecting me and giving me life. I will not see my sacred mountain used for a play ground for money.

Bob Swift

Which will go one longer: protests by the Hopi against snowmaking or GOP efforts to get elections to come out more favorably to their own candidates?

Enough! Let’s at least have our political elections by popular vote.

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