After nearly ten years of legal wrangling, the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort was given the green light to use reclaimed wastewater to make artificial snow for the first time this winter. It is also the first ski resort in the world to do so, taking its water from treatment facilities in nearby Flagstaff, AZ. It’s definitely a novel use for wastewater and, if it proves successful, it may help combat the stigma against the use of reclaimed wastewater in other applications where human contact may occur.
Unfortunately, the first run of snow sprayed onto the slopes was yellow.
Face-planting into a pile of yellow snow made from reclaimed wastewater is an icky proposition. Joking aside, the discolored snow raises serious questions about the potential health and environmental impact of spraying wastewater effluent onto the slopes. Some studies have shown that the effluent contains traces of pharmaceuticals, hormones and other chemicals which are not regulated by current water quality laws. The controversy is also complicated by the fact that the resort sits on a mountain that is considered sacred by 13 Native American tribes.
The managers of the Arizona Snowbowl assert that their artificial snow does not pose a risk to skiers’ health. They claim that the discoloration snow was a result of rusty residue from the actual snow-making equipment. The snow guns have since been cleaned to prevent further discoloration of the snow.
Ski resorts have been making artificial snow for decades. In the face of a changing climate and increasing demand for fresh water, using reclaimed wastewater to powder the slopes may just become a standard practice at resorts around the world. Let’s hope they keep it white.
Chappell, Bill. "Ski Resort Makes Snow With Treated Wastewater, After A Long Dispute." NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.
MacMillan, Leslie. "Discolored Slopes Mar Debut of Snow-Making Effort." The New York Times. N.p., 11 Jan. 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.
Macmillan, Leslie. "Resort's Snow Won't Be Pure This Year; It'll Be Sewage." The New York Times. The New York Times, 27 Sept. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.