U.S. Water News Online
PASADENA, Calif. -- Chanting and beating drums, American
Indians marched to a federal appeals court to oppose the use of
treated watewater to make snow in Arizona mountains they hold sacred.
About 150 activists recently marched to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals for a hearing in the case.
A three-judge panel of the court ruled in March that using the
treated wastewater to allow expansion of the Arizona Snowbowl resort
would violate the religious freedom of Navajos, Hopis and 11 other
tribes who had sued to block the expansion.
However, the full appellate court decided to rehear the case.
Snowbowl's owners and the federal government had urged the court to
reconsider, arguing the earlier ruling broke federal precedent and
incorrectly applied provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration
The 777-acre resort rests on the western flank of the San
Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff. Resort owners also want to remove
about 100 acres of forest and add a fifth lift to attract more skiers
on manmade snow.
"The peaks are central to the practice of the Hopi religion," said
protester Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director for the Hopi Cultural
Preservation Office in Arizona. "The mountains and the kachina
spirits ... represent the heart and soul of our community."
The U.S. Forest Service leases the land to the Arizona Snowbowl
Resort. At the hearing, the 11-judge court was told the agency had
the right to permit snowmaking on its own land.
Lane McFadden, an attorney representing the Forest Service, also
said he considered the treated wastewater to be safe.
"I would let my kids play in that water," he said.
As for imposing on Indian religious beliefs, McFadden said: "I
believe their prayers will not be devastated."
But Howard Shanker, an attorney representing several tribes, said
the government "will contaminate their religious freedom" if
snowmaking is allowed.
The appellate panel did not immediately rule in the case.
Arizona Snowbowl opened late in three of the last four years
because of lack of snow, but is set to open soon, which would match
its average opening date. The resort brings an estimated $10 million
annually to Flagstaff's economy.
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