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Sometimes a bad application of a good idea can make the idea itself seem worse. Examples abound: communism, social Darwinism, the last two seasons of The Office. And then there’s Arizona Snowbowl, a ski resort outside Flagstaff that’s poised to become the first to make all of its artificial snow from reclaimed sewage water. In wetter regions, resorts often get that water from nearby lakes or rivers, “but we simply don’t have those resources,” says resort general manager JR Murray. So Snowbowl intends to pump as much as 1.5 million gallons of reclaimed water each day from a source roughly 15 miles away.
Now one could argue—and many have—that Snowbowl never should have been built here in the first place. Perched atop a 9,000-foot extinct volcano in the scenic San Francisco Peaks, it has been plagued by water shortages since its founding 75 years ago. Some seasons there isn’t enough snowfall to make the place profitable. “The very notion of committing water to skiing in Arizona is silly,” says Taylor McKinnon, who directs public lands campaigns at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Pumping it 15 miles uphill with globe-warming coal electricity is plainly irresponsible.” (Roughly one-third of the state’s power derives from coal.) What’s more, local tribes, who have long opposed the ski resort, say that the artificial snow would further desecrate the peaks they consider sacred land.