Activists from Save the Peaks protest the use of reclaimed sewage at the Arizona Snowbowl on November 21, 2017. Photo: Dustin Wero
Environment | Law | National

Hopi Tribe continues battle against use of wastewater at sacred site




The Hopi Tribe has won the right to sue a ski resort whose operators are using reclaimed sewage in the sacred San Francisco Peaks.

The tribe contends the use of the wastewater desecrates the home of spiritual beings, harms religious shrines and disrupts the ability to carry on its traditions. A decision hasn't been reached on the merits but an appeals court ruled that the case can proceed against the Arizona Snowbowl, the operators of the resort.

“Natural resources that the Hopi collect, as well as shrines, sacred areas, and springs on the peaks will come into contact with the blown reclaimed wastewater,” Judge Kenton Jones wrote in the unanimous February 8 decision. “This negatively impacts the Hopi's use of the Snowbowl resort area, the wilderness area, and surrounding areas, and causes Hopi practitioners to stop using the areas they have traditionally used.”

The sacred San Francisco Peaks in Arizona. Photo: Tyler finvold

The Snowbowl is located on federal land and its operators secured federal approval to make snow using the reclaimed sewage. The Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation and other tribes sued in hopes of overturning the approval but lost in federal court. A second federal case filed by Native activists also failed.

The Hopi Tribe has since turned to the state court system to assert its rights. A lawsuit against the city of Flagstaff was dismissed in 2016. The city is providing the wastewater being used to make the fake snow.


The case against the Snowbowl remains alive as a result of the decision from the Arizona Court of Appeals.

“The struggles to protect our sacred places and precious water are not over until our cultures are over. We will not allow that to happen,” said Klee Benally, an activist from the Navajo Nation who participated in a Save the Peaks protest at the Snowbowl when it opened for the season last November.

Read More on the Story:
Tribe fights Arizona ski resort over use of wastewater to make snow (Fox News February 26, 2018)
US tribe fights use of treated sewage to make snow on holy peaks (The Guardian February 15, 2018)
Appeals Court gives Hopi Tribe another chance in fight against treated wastewater at Snowbowl (The Arizona Republic February 11, 2018)
Hopi lawsuit against snowmaking at Arizona Snowbowl with treated effluent reinstated (Capitol Media Services February 9, 2018)
Court of Appeals Reinstates Hopi Lawsuit Over Snowmaking with Reclaimed Water (KNAU February 8, 2018)
Hopi Suit Over Ski Resort’s Wastewater Snow Revived (Courthouse News Service February 8, 2018)

Related Stories:
Hopi Tribe loses lawsuit over reclaimed wastewater at sacred site (August 16, 2016)
City delays settlement over wastewater at sacred site in Arizona (March 10, 2016)
Activists protest use of reclaimed wastewater in sacred peaks (November 19, 2015)
Hopi Tribe working on settlement over wastewater at sacred site (June 16, 2015)