Yellow Recycled Sewage Snow Prompts Concern

Rusty discoloration at Snowbowl


A northern Arizona ski resort’s effort to use treated sewage effluent to make snow, the first such initiative of its kind, has hit a few snags. After winning a legal battle against environmentalists and Native American tribes who consider the mountain sacred, Arizona Snowbowl began using recycled wastewater in its snow machines for the first time on December 24. Disconcertingly, the snow came out yellow.

While J.R. Murray, Snowbowl’s manager, has said that the problem was caused by rusty residue in the snow-making equipment, discoloration may be the least of the snow’s problems. Public health officials are now looking into the possibility that the snow may pose a threat to both the ecology of the mountain, as well as the health of skiers.

According to the New York Times, the reclaimed water used at Snowbowl has been found to contain hormones, pharmaceuticals, antibiotics, and chemicals. The Forest Service approved Snowbowl’s plans in 2005 after a long environmental impact study, but Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity says that new research has rendered the eight-year-old study obsolete and new, more harmful chemicals have since been found in the wastewater.

State officials say an inspector has been sent to Snowbowl and they expect to complete the investigation next week.