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Ski Resort Makes Snow With Treated Wastewater, After A Long Dispute

The Arizona Snowbowl resort began making snow exclusively with reclaimed wastewater this week. In this file photo, employees go up a ski lift at the resort. (AP)

An Arizona ski resort is making snow for the first time this year, ending more than seven years' worth of legal battles over its snowmaking system, which relies entirely upon treated wastewater to coat its slopes when the snowfall has been uneven.

The resort, Arizona Snowbowl, has long been a target of American Indian tribes, who say it defiles sacred land. Critics have also said the snowmaking system might threaten an endangered plant. The resort sits on more than 700 acres of land that it leases from the U.S. Forest Service.

On its website, the Forest Service says that using reclaimed wastewater to make snow "is an environmentally and economically responsible decision" in Arizona's desert climate.

From Tucson, Ted Robbins filed a report for NPR's Newscast desk that includes more details:

"The Snowbowl resort near Flagstaff has faced numerous challenges to its plan. But it finally began using treated effluent to make snow earlier this week."

"The Hopi tribe withdrew a lawsuit and will instead meet with the Justice Department and the Forest Service to review the water's effects. American Indian tribes have protested the ski resort's existence for decades. It's on a peak held sacred by 13 tribes. Several people were arrested in a protest before Christmas."

According to The Arizona Daily Sun, the resort plans to use its new snowmaking system to lengthen its season, particularly to guarantee that it is open for Christmas.

Earlier this year, the legal battle over the resort's plans gained a new public-health angle, as research showed that Snowbowl's "wastewater system is a breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant genes," as Leslie MacMillan of The New York Times' Green blog wrote in October.

Those concerns reportedly prompted the city of Flagstaff, which sells its wastewater to Snowbowl, to consider adding more advanced filtering equipment. But as NPR's Alix Spiegel reported last year, the term "wastewater" has an identity issue that often limits its uses.

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