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AZ Supreme Court Rules Against Hopi Tribe in Snowmaking Challenge


The Arizona Supreme Court has sided with Arizona Snowbowl in a longstanding challenge to artificial snowmaking using reclaimed wastewater. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, the Hopi Tribe contends it desecrates sacred sites and prevents religious ceremonies.

The court rejected the Hopi argument that snowmaking by Arizona Snowbowl on the San Francisco Peaks represents a special injury to the tribe. The majority wrote that government officials or Congress are best suited to govern the tribe’s use of public lands for religious purposes.

Snowbowl began making snow in 2012 using treated, reclaimed wastewater. The resort purchases the effluent from the city of Flagstaff.

The Peaks, located on the Coconino National Forest, are considered sacred by more than a dozen Southwestern tribes. In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Scott Bales writes that the Hopi face the destruction of some of their most sacred locations and practices.

This state Supreme Court ruling and the Hopi lawsuit caps years of legal challenges to snowmaking. The courts have now thrown out all of them.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered 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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