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Snowbowl project made of wastewater on Indigenous sacred lands, San Francisco Peaks, Arizona, US


San Francisco Peaks is a volcanic mountain range in Arizona, US [1]. Many Native American tribes have been preserving their cultures in the Peaks [1]. In fact, the place is sacred to the Tribes and has been called Dook'o'oosłííd in Diné; Nuva'tukya'ovi in Hopi, Wik'hanbaja by the Hualapai or Nuvaxatuh by the Southern Paiute Native tribes [1]. Hopi katsinam are holy people that bring rain to the place. These spirits live in the springs and travel to Hopi kivas at the winter solstice and participate there in the Hopi kachina cycle of ceremonial dances until the summer solstice and the start of the monsoon [1].

However, since 1800 Coconino National Forest U.S. government contols and takes all decisions about this public land [1,4]. In 1979, the Forest Service approved Arizona Snowbowl ski resort expansion even though the tribes highly opposed this plan [1]. Then, in 2009, the Forest Service approved another plan, which allows the use of treated wastewater (obtained by a near city of Flagstaff)  for artificial snowmaking when natural snowfall in the Peaks falls short [1,2,3].

Native activists [8] highly disagreed with the artificial wastewater snow explaining that it will have huge negative consequences for the weather, the water, their system beliefs, religious practices, the land and the life on the land [1]. The activists wrote: " ...the government authorized 1.5 million gallons of recycled sewage water to be placed daily on the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona, despite the fact that 13 different American Indian tribes viewed this as a grave desecration of a site sacred to them for religious ceremonies". In addition, the project would bring presence of chemicals, such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products in the water hold sacred and used for drinking [9].

In this particular case against the artificial snow on the sacred Peaks, Hopi tribe filed suit in the court [1]. However the claims were dismissed [1,7].

Then in 2020, Snowbowl proposed to expand its facilities one again and authorised a special use permit for a San Francisco-based firm to create a "memorial forest" within the traditional cultural property area but as private land. in that sense, customers could purchase rights to place human cremains at the roots of a tree on the property [3]. However, Native activist do not agree with the memorial-forest private property model, firstly because private lands are not subject to any cultural protection laws; secondly because the proposal would only worsen the access to land and related practices and ceremonies; and thirdly because the Tribes use the forest for healing, not as private property [2,3].

In general, this conflict over land dates back to the late 1800s [9]. For instance, the tribes successful stopped mining activities in 2000 through Traditional Cultural Property under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act [9]. However today, both the Snowball and Memorial Forest Privet Property projects are somehow extensions to the "original" land conflict. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Snowbowl project made of wastewater on Indigenous sacred lands, San Francisco Peaks, Arizona, US
Country:United States of America
State or province:Arizona
Location of conflict:San Francisco Peaks
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Tourism Recreation
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Domestic municipal waste
Tourism services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

In 2005 Arizona Snowbowl developed a project on the San Francisco Peaks by clearcutting 74 acres (30 hectares) of rare alpine habitat, cutting about 30,000 trees, and in addition constructed parking lots and building a 14.8 mile underground pipeline to transport up to 180 million gallons (per season) of wastewater to make artificial snow on 205 acres (83 hectares) of forest in the Sant Francisco Peaks [5]. The Snowbowl project is pumping 1.5 million gallons per day of treated waste water and spraying it on a mountain deemed as sacred by many Native American tribes [5,1].

Project area:83,000
Level of Investment for the conflictive project60,000,000.00
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:01/01/2009
Relevant government actors:Coconino National Forest U.S. government
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Indigenous Circle of Flagstaff
Sierra Club
Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Hopi, Navajo, Apache nations
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Soil contamination, Waste overflow
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Violations of human rights
Potential: Loss of livelihood


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Land demarcation
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
fully treated waste water
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:A longlasting land conflict, in which Native tribes and activists have fought for more than 40 years to preserve the peaks (mining), including ceremonies, rituals, religious beliefs and the use if the peaks for healing. Approval of such ski waste water project for artificial snowmaking or private property logic cannot be considered as success for environmental justice for the Tribes.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[4] e Forest Service appeal process: Arizona Snowbowl Facilities Improvements Final Environmental Impact Statement. Record of Decision and Forest Plan Amendment #21

[1] AZCentral 2021: San Francisco Peaks: A sacred place is imperiled by snow made with recycled sewage

[2] KNAU Local News 2016: Navajo Nation Officials Oppose Hopi-Flagstaff Snowmaking Settlement

[3] AZCentral: Tribes raise alarms about proposed 'memorial forest' near San Francisco Peaks

[5] Protect the Peaks- Stop the Construction Now! About the project

[6] Protect the Peaks: Navajo elders object to Snowbowl chairlift on sacred mountain


[8] Cultural Survival: Native Americans Fight to Save Sacred Site

[9] Sacred Land Film Project: San Francisco Peaks History

[10] KJZZ by Lauren Gilger: Arizona Snowbowl Announces $60 Million Expansion Plan

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[11] Petition: Protect the Peaks

Meta information

Contributor:KH ICTA-UAB
Last update19/09/2021
Conflict ID:5629



San Francisco Peaks where Navajo Nation Oppose artificial snowmaking from wastewaters

Source: KNAU Arizona Public Radio

The Arizona Snowbowl, encompasses 777 acres of NFS lands, and operates under a Special Use Permit issued by the Coconino National Forest


Protesters at Snowbowl ski resort