Ski resorts are no strangers to the problems posed by fickle weather; in fact, their industry is more sensitive to the issue than most. Not only do they need precipitation, they need snow. Since the 1970s, all ski resorts have snow-making apparatus to supplement their slopes when nature won’t provide.
Typically, this is pulled from the public potable supply, but the Soda Springs Mountain Resort in Norden, California, is sourcing their water from a slightly different source. This season, they’re going to be using recycled wastewater to keep their slopes white.
The resort’s managers described the water, which is piped from the Donner Summit Public Utility District’s treatment plant, as “pathogen-free and crystal clear.” They added that because the recycled water is so highly treated, the man-made snow will actually be safer than artificial snow made from surface water.
“Recycled water is strictly monitored by state and federal agencies and meets the highest quality of treated water in the state of California,” said Amy Ohran, the resort’s general manager. Because recycled water is designated differently from tap water, Soda Springs will have to post signs warning skiers not to ingest the snow, but that doesn’t seem to concern Ohran.
“Our messaging is really that snow should not be ingested, whether it’s natural snowfall, man-made from untreated surface water, or man-made from recycled-water facilities,” she said.
Nancy Vogel, spokesperson for the California Natural Resources Agency, supported the switch. “Congratulations to Soda Springs Ski Resort and Donner Summit Public Utility District for making good use of treated wastewater,” she wrote. “It’s a good way to stretch supplies for us and the environment.”
They aren’t the first to make this switch. Three years ago, the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort in Flagstaff, Arizona, started using treated wastewater for snowmaking. The U.S. Forest Service backed them up in the face of opposition from local Native American tribes and environmental groups. “Given the long-term water predicament Arizona and other states in the West are facing, using reclaimed water to make snow is an environmentally and economically responsible decision,” their website says.
As a relatively small, relatively affluent market, the winter resort industry may be providing a fine test case for water-reuse proponents. If this change starts to snowball, it’ll generate a wealth of proven projects where recycled wastewater has been proven safe and effective. The public has proven squeamish about toilet-to-tap; maybe after they see their children tumble around in the stuff with impunity, they’ll reconsider.