This afternoon, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Arizona Snowbowl in what has been a longstanding fight to use reclaimed water to make artificial snow. In today’s 5-2 decision, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the Tribe’s connection to the area does not establish a special category of harm as the Tribe alleged under their claim that the use of reclaimed wastewater to create snow causes a public nuisance.
In the majority decision, the justices state “…we emphasize that our legal conclusion neither disregards nor minimizes the authenticity or meaningfulness of the Tribe’s culture, ceremonial practices, or religious beliefs”.
The decision notes the Tribe’s claim for special injury did not meet the legal standard in that the use of reclaimed wastewater and its effects on the environment do not impact only the Tribe, but all who visit the area. However, the argument that the use of wastewater being a public nuisance was not disputed.
In their dissent, Chief Justice Bales joined by Justice Bolick stated the majority did not understand the special nature the tribe is alleging. In the dissent, Bales wrote "[b]efore Snowbowl...the Hopi frequently traveled to and through the area" to what the Tribe considers sacred areas to conduct sacred rituals. Justice Bales also noted that the Tribes rituals, which depend on the purification of the area would be destroyed due to the reclaimed water, which is unfit for human consumption and retains some contaminants.
This case is the most recent in a long line of cases and challenges since the contract between the City of Flagstaff and Arizona Snowbowl to use reclaimed wastewater for snowmaking was entered into over sixteen years ago.
To read the full decision, click here.
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