Flagstaff residents oppose city's use of drinking water for snowmaking

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

FLAGSTAFF -- It's the second year that the city of Flagstaff is using potable water to create snow for the Dew Downtown Flagstaff Urban Ski and Snowboard Festival.

While the city argues potable water is cleaner and more comfortable for the snowboarders and skiers than reclaimed water, some Flagstaff residents are saying the practice is wasteful.
Although Flagstaff saw a few inches of snow during the latest storm, the city plans to use 440,000 gallons of potable water to create more.

"We had that very dry January with no snow, so we needed to put a little bit more out there to get the same base," said city of Flagstaff spokeswoman Kimberly Ott.

Geoffery Bishop is one of many Flagstaff residents voicing concern about the use of drinking water for the festival while the resource is scarce.
"I think that's terrible. I think that that is way too much water to use on an event like this," he said.

Flagstaff resident Alexa Vagnozzi agreed, saying the city has other options.
"I would prefer the more contaminated relcaimed water rather than the drinking water because we don't want to take away the drinking water from Flagstaff citizens or anything like that," she said.
Friends of Flagstaff's Future, a watchdog and advocacy group, has been vocal about its stance on the issue.
The organization said in a statement, "Friends of Flagstaff's Future believes the city of Flagstaff should be a leader in water conservation and put Flagstaff on the map for activities that promote the principles of a sustainable community. Wasting 300,000 gallons of water on a two-day event in the arid southwest is not a prudent use of our scarce resources.

We hope to work with other community groups and our city to find opportunities that promote tourism and engage our community in fun activities but that are also aligned with principals of sustainability."

But Ott insists the benefits outweigh the cost.

She said the 400,000 gallons is about an hour's worth of water supply for the entire community during the summer.

"We feel that what the community gets out of it is worth the investment," she said.

Ott called the event a huge economic driver for downtown Flagstaff and the surrounding community.

"It's a tough call and it's something that the city took really seriously when you have the water conservation concern, but you also have the economic benefit to the community," she explained.

Kevin Collins, who works at a business downtown, is looking forward to cashing in on the event.

"We just expanded our store now, so we have a lot more room for people to come through, and it helps with lunch and drink sales," he said.

Collins added that the extra snow provided by the city seems to attract a larger crowd.

"It brings people down here to the store and keeps us busy as well," he said.

Collins also said he is not worried about the disgruntled residents.

"There would be people upset if it was reclaimed water," he said. "I think there's always going to be an issue with it."

Vino Loco owner Weston Miller is also looking forward to a busy day at his wine store.

"It's kind of right out our back door, so it brings a lot of people in throughout the day drinking wine and beer," he said.

According to Miller, January and February are usually slow months for Flagstaff businesses. During the festival, however, he sees a 30 percent boost in sales.

The city reported a 19 percent increase in sales tax revenue during the past two events. Revenue from bed, board and beverage tax was also up by 13 percent.

"That we can reinvest to the streets, roads and things like that," Ott said.

But some Flagstaff residents still firmly oppose the use of potable water for the event.

"We're in a huge drought," Bishop said. "There's absolutely no need for an event like this, in my opinion, at all during that time."