The Hopi tribe just lost an ongoing legal battle with the town of Flagstaff. The lawsuit concerns the city’s sale of reused wastewater to Arizona Snowbowl for snowmaking. The lawsuit was made on the grounds that the wastewater causes a public nuisance and interferes with the tribes cultural, ceremonial and religious rights to the land. The lawsuit was first filed in 2011.
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The Tribe considers the San Fransisco peaks to be sacred and often gather water and plants for ceremonial purposes in the land surrounding Arizona Snowbowl. The land has been used by the Hopi long before the ski resort operated there. They are also concerned that the wastewater may end up in sacred areas used by the tribe.
The Arizona Supreme Court ruled against the Tribe on Thursday, November 29th. The ruling concluded that recycled water used in snowmaking does not harm the tribe any more than it harms hikers, skiers, and other users of the public land. In order for a private party to claim a public nuisance, they must demonstrate harm that is unique to them and the court does not believe this was the case. Justice John Pelander wrote.
“At its core, the special injury requirement serves as a gatekeeping function that prevents courts from deciding issues under the guise of public nuisance claims when such issues are best left to public officials, a pivotal principle in federal cases grappling with religious freedom challenges to public land uses,”
-John Pelander talking with Arizona Daily Sun
The Hopi tribe is disappointed with the ruling. Chairman of the tribe Tim Nuvangyoma commented.
“As we have said before, while the use of treated wastewater to make snow may provide some commercial benefit to the ski resort, the long-term impact is immeasurable on the natural resources, shrines, and springs on the San Francisco Peaks, a sacred site for the Hopi,”
-Tim Nuvangyoma speaks to AZ Central.
Arizona Snowbowl has opened for the 2018-2019 ski season.