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Court of Appeals Reinstates Hopi Lawsuit Over Snowmaking with Reclaimed Water

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The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled today that the Hopi Tribe has the right to sue Arizona Snowbowl over snowmaking using treated wastewater on the San Francisco Peaks. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, it reverses a previous decision dismissing the lawsuit. 

According to the three-judge panel, the Hopi Tribe should be able to have its case heard before a judge and jury. The unanimous ruling says the tribe’s allegation that it’s suffering a “special injury” from the use of reclaimed water at Arizona Snowbowl is valid.

The tribe sued the ski resort in 2010 claiming snowmaking is a public nuisance and impairs members’ abilities to conduct religious ceremonies on the San Francisco Peaks, which the Hopi consider sacred.

Under the ruling, the tribe also won’t be responsible for Snowbowl’s attorney’s fees.

In 2005, the Forest Service approved the City of Flagstaff’s sale of reclaimed water to Snowbowl. Several tribes challenged the decision, and the Hopi lawsuit is the only one that hasn’t been thrown out in court.

Snowbowl did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and a City of Flagstaff spokesperson says the city doesn’t comment on pending litigation. 

Ryan Heinsius was named interim news director and managing editor in January 2024. He joined KNAU's newsroom as an executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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