Mar 15, 2007

Court Sides With Tribes Over Arizona Wastewater Snow

A federal court agreed with 13 Southwest tribes that the use of recycled sewage water to make artificial snow on sacred land would violate the tribes’ religious freedom.

The San Francisco Peaks in the Coconino National Forest in Northern Arizona have long held religious significance to tribes in the Southwest. According to the Independent, Judge William A. Fletcher of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling from January of 2006 by Judge Paul G. Rosenblatt.

Judge Fletcher was convinced by the argument presented to him that using treated sewage water to make artificial snow at the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort would pollute the mountain, as well as prevent the tribe members from practicing their religions.

Judge Fletcher stated that the U.S. Forest Service’s approval of the recycled sewage effluent on the peaks would violate the Religions Freedom Restoration Act and does not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.

The law firm fighting the original ruling represented the Navajo nation, the Hopi Tribe, the Sierra Club and others.

This is the first time that the RFRA has been used successfully to appeal a ruling.

The Snowbowl resort is located on Humphreys Peak, the highest and most religious of the San Francisco Peaks. The court also decided in favor of the appeal, because the U.S. Forest Service failed to fully reveal the risks involved with humans ingesting the artificial snow.