Archive for the 'On The San Francisco Peaks' Category

My Town Wasted Scarce Water for a Celebration

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

The following op-ed was published at High Country News today.

I’m still thinking about last February’s “Dew Downtown,” Flagstaff’s third annual ski and snowboard festival, which transformed a steep downtown road into a winter playground of snow-covered runs and what looked like death-defying jumps. In the crowd, scattered among the thousands of families and younger beer drinkers who used words like “shred” and “stoked,” were a group of protesters who were there for a much different message. Their message: Water is scarce in Arizona.

Arizona, like much of the West, was experiencing one of the driest winters on record, and at the time of the event, Flagstaff was in the thick of it. When the local newspaper printed article after article, simultaneously musing over the city’s preparation for the event and the reality of our lack of precipitation, one question became central: Where would the city get enough water to make artificial snow? Its answer: Over 300,000 gallons of Flagstaff’s drinking water would be diverted so the show could go on.

Making snow from any source of water has long been a contentious issue in Flagstaff, Ever since the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort started making snow in order to expand its operations more than a decade ago, there have been protests, including road blockades, tree-sits, lockdowns and other nonviolent demonstrations. More than 50 people have been arrested. Many of those protesting the Dew Downtown event have spent years arguing with the resort, their central point being: As long as water is scarce, water should not be used for recreation.

Just a month after Dew Downtown, neighboring Williams, Arizona, announced that it faced a water crisis and was imposing “level 4” restrictions. A week later, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared that all of Arizona was officially in a drought. By mid-April, the Flagstaff area had already suffered at least half a dozen wildfires. Recently, the devastating Slide Fire, which threatened homes in Oak Creek Canyon and Flagstaff, was finally contained after it burned at least 33 square miles.

Protesters like to point out the hypocrisy of the city’s sustainability initiatives, which place restrictions on the way citizens can use water, with fines levied against those who don’t comply.

But some snowboarders at the event jeered the protesters. “It’s just water!” they said. “What is the big deal?” “As long as the water is being used for fun, who cares?” Others, though, voiced their support. One woman holding a “Water is life” sign said, “People have thanked us for being here; many are concerned about this.”

Native Americans protesting the event juxtaposed skiing on manmade snow with the reality of their having to haul water on the reservation. One Diné woman from Cameron, Arizona, a small town just north of Flagstaff on the Navajo Nation, said, “If my family misses a weekend to haul water, we have to go that week without.” She added that her drinking water is contaminated by uranium due to mining. As she held a sign containing statistics about water access, I saw her staring at the drainage gutters along the street, where the 60-degree sun was fast melting away Flagstaff’s drinking water. It must have seemed a startling contrast to life on the reservation.

Flagstaff’s utilities director, Brad Hill, who was interviewed on National Public Radio about Dew Downtown, wasn’t upset by the protests, calling the 300,000 gallons used to make snow for the event “a drop in the bucket.” Yet 300,000 gallons of water could meet the needs of a typical family for seven years. Under its own water rates, Flagstaff would bill a private citizen $3,222 for consuming that much water.

Those protesting the use of water for recreation — for either the Dew Downtown festival or the Snowbowl ski resort — think it’s past time for the city to develop an updated water policy standard, one that reflects the reality of this increasingly scarce yet universally necessary resource. Flagstaff citizen and Diné activist Klee Benally said, “What is the outcome of this event? It’s celebrating recreation. So essentially, we’re wasting water for fun, and to me that sends the wrong message.”

Misconceptions about reclaimed wastewater in Arizona abound, and the courts have been dismissive of cultural concerns regarding its use on the San Francisco Peaks. On the day of Flagstaff’s Dew Downtown event, the unseasonably warm wind blew dust, browning the man-made snow even as tourists in T-shirts celebrated. The water might be poisoned to the north, a water crisis could shake up people to the West and statewide standards for drought might be declared, but in Flagstaff, I realized, we still waste our water for fun.

Kyle Boggs is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News. He regularly contributes to The Noise, an independently produced northern Arizona newspaper, and is a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Arizona’s rhetoric and composition program.

Free Speech and Water Conservation Dog Dew Downtown Event

Monday, February 24th, 2014

On February 8 and 9, the City of Flagstaff hosted Dew Downtown, it’s third annual “adrenaline rich, high octane” urban ski and snowboard festival. Juxtaposed among the thousands of spectators, and beer drinkers—mingled with prominent use of words like “shred,” “stoked” and “tweeked out”—were a group of protestors who echoed much different messages: free speech and responsible water use.

A lot goes into planning an event like this. Beyond the sponsors, permits, and advertising, the City used at least 300,000 gallons of Flagstaff’s drinking water to make artificial snow using the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort’s snowmaking guns. The snow was made at the resort, and trucked into the city where it was spread along San Francisco Street for the event. But this wasn’t all the City did to prepare for the event. They also sent armed plain-clothed police officers to various community member’s houses, as well as the Táala Hooghan Infoshop, a community center on Flagstaff’s eastside, as “preventative maintenance” of the event since Snowbowl was involved in making snow.

Making snow from any source of water has been a contentious issue in Flagstaff for the last decade or more. Since the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort started expanding their operations to make artificial snow from Flagstaff’s reclaimed wastewater on the San Francisco Peaks, protests, which have included road blockades, tree sits, lockdowns, and other nonviolent demonstrations have resulted in more than 50 arrests.

Officers Kevin Rued and Eric Greenwald stated that their supervisors gathered information from Facebook and Twitter that protesters were “going to chain themselves and cause this huge disruption,” a claim that those targeted denied. The officers were relaying a message to certain individuals that the City was setting up a “free speech zone” in front of the courthouse. “The entire front grassy area of the courthouse [is] roped off specifically for protesters” just outside of where the event is taking place,” they said.

James Kennedy, a community member who was arrested last year for participating in a tree sit aimed at disrupting construction of a wastewater pipeline from Thorpe park to Snowbowl was alarmed by the visit, “It’s chilling and terrifying. Armed men showed up at my house, I didn’t know if I was going to jail [that] morning.”

The irony here is that nobody was planning anything. “We were just planning a simple boycott of the event,” said community member Dawn Dyer who held up a sign at the event that said, “water is life.”

Diné activist and Flagstaff citizen Klee Benally, who was also targeted as part of the City’s “preventative maintenance” prior to the event, confirmed that no demonstrations were planned. “We were planning on not going there because last year it was so intense and violating. The boycott we planned was just a boycott online where we said, ‘hey we don’t want to go; we don’t want to support this event,’ and we wanted to let people understand why.”

The intensity of last year’s protest, which Benally and others wanted to avoid this year, resulted in charges reluctantly handed down to a snowbowl supporter for assaulting two Diné minors.

On February 9, 2013, more than 50 people had gathered in downtown Flagstaff for a peaceful Idle No More round dance in protest of the Arizona Snowbowl ski area’s expansion and the use of reclaimed wastewater to make artificial snow on the San Francisco Peaks, a mountain held sacred to at least 13 tribes of the southwest. The protest coincided with that year’s Dew Downtown event, sponsored in part by the Arizona Snowbowl.

According to a press release, the group formed a circle and were closing the protest with the American Indian Movement song when Snowbowl supporter Lindsay Lucas, who was intoxicated at the time, “rushed into the circle of protesters swinging her arms and tore through a large banner, pulling it from the people holding it and smashed it on the ground. She then pushed further into the circle and assaulted two young Diné who were singing and drumming. After punching at them, she grabbed at the drums and tried to break them.”

Police initially refused to charge the assaulter. At the time Leslyn Begay, Diné mother of the two boys who were 11 and 13 when assaulted stated, “I feel if the roles were reversed it would have been a different outcome. If I attacked a caucasian child I would have gone straight to jail. This white female attacked us and knocked their drums out of their hands and may get away with it. It’s racism. The cops refused my request to arrest her for assault. They gave her a disorderly conduct ticket but refused to charge her with assault or jail her for her actions against my kids.” stated Ms. Begay.

On January 22, a Flagstaff judge ruled that Lindsay Lucas must pay restitution for assaulting the two Native youth. “I’m pleased to report that the Judge was in our favor. It’s been a very long year of constant continuances. We’ve all suffered emotionally as a family from this ordeal,” said Ms. Begay. “It’s nerve wrecking walking into the judicial system not knowing what to expect. As a Diné and person of color you worry it may not go in your favor,” said Ms. Begay.

Another irony is that Benally, Kennedy, and others were targeted for “preventative maintenance” for this year’s event despite the fact that it was actually a Snowbowl supporter who has ever acted out violently. To the police officers who visited him at his house, Mr. Kennedy stated, “It looks bad when police come to check in on us when at the last Dew Downtown the only thing that happened was the pro-Snowbowl lady came and attacked my friends.” Benally was similarly outraged at the double standard. “The only person that‘s ever been violent at any of these protests, that I suspect would warrant a serious police response, would be snowbowl supporters,” he said. “I mean, they attacked children, minors 11 and 13 at the time, yet the response is to target those who have been peaceful.”

The “free speech zone” was configured on the courthouse lawn, a dozen or so metal barricades formed a small square outside and away from the event. This is where the city intended any and all protests to take place. So-called “free speech zones,” or “free speech cages,” are based on the notion that government may regulate the time, place, and manner—but not the content—of expression, but the American Civil Liberties Union, among other groups and individuals have widely criticized such designations of free speech as unconstitutional. Many colleges and universities instituted free speech zones during Vietnam-era protests in the 1960s and 1970s, and George W. Bush’s administration made prominent use of them throughout his presidency. Critics have claimed that if speech is regulated by time and space, it cannot be free by definition. Alas, when Voltaire said, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” it goes without saying that he was not further stipulating, ‘as long as you say it when and at the proper location the state deems it appropriate.’

It was, therefore, the institution of a free speech zone and the intimidating visits by police officers that prompted a protest presence at the event. “I personally wasn’t planning anything until this outright repression occurred,” Benally said, referring to the police harassment, and what he considered efforts to limit free speech. “And to me, in and of itself, this was a matter to protest.” Symbolically the group met opposite the corner where the two Native youth were attacked last year.

Law enforcement agents repeatedly stated that the special event permit extended to the sidewalks and gave them the right to restrict access to the sidewalk. “There were multiple police officers, including Arizona Rangers stationed at different points who were blocking access,” said Benally. They stated that folks couldn’t go up there if you were part of the group,” referring to the event area on San Francisco between Birch and Dale, “and then they said you couldn’t go up if you had a sign. So it wasn’t entirely consistent, but primarily they said if you were a protester you couldn’t go up there,” said Benally.

Benally knew from organizing past events, specifically a Human Rights March in 2012, that when the City issued special event permits, such permits did not extend to the sidewalks. “At every step of the permitting process it was very explicit that the permit did not extend to the sidewalk, that the sidewalk was to remain public,” said Benally. “So on Saturday, when I went up San Francisco Street on the sidewalk, I had that information already.”

When a friend pointed out that Flagstaff Mayor Jerry Nabours was in the area, Benally took this as an opportunity to voice his concerns. “I went up to him and said, ‘hey, I have some concerns about the restricted access to the sidewalk. I feel like my free speech is being denied.’” Benally continued, “Nabours said he wasn’t the person to talk to about that. I asked him who was responsible for creating the free speech zone, and again he said he wasn’t the person to talk to about that.”

“That wasn’t really sufficient to me because I felt like he’s the mayor and he should have more responsibility to address some serious concerns of potential free speech violations,” said Benally. At this point Nabours began to walk away and Benally followed, seeking answers to his questions, and one of the Rangers told him he needed to leave immediately. “I said, well this is a public area, and he responded, ‘you’re trespassing; you’re unwelcome here.’ And he was very aggressive,” claimed Benally. When Benally stepped up onto the sidewalk, he was informed that he was still trespassing and he needed to go down to Birch.

Three fellow protestors claim to have also heard Mayor Nabours say to Benally, “you’re not welcome here,” though Benally himself didn’t hear it. One man, who wished to remain anonymous for this article swears he heard him. “Under oath, I couldn’t say because I didn’t see his lips moving, but I swear Nabours said to Klee as he was walking away, ‘you’re not welcome here.’”

A woman who identified herself as Meline brought it up at a City Council meeting the following Tuesday, and claimed to have documentation. Nabours adamantly refused that he said it. “That’s not true. Bring me the documentation; I think we do have the right to contest a statement,” he said. At the time of publication, no documentation has been produced to support this claim.

“Regardless of whether he said it or not, he turned his back on people who were asking serious and legitimate questions,” said Benally. “He was right there when the officer told me I was unwelcome; he turned his back and walked away.”

On Monday, Benally called the City’s Senior Recreation Coordinator, Glorice Pavey, who is in charge of filing the paperwork for special events. “I asked her if their permit [for the Dew Downtown event] extended to the sidewalk and if they had the ability to restrict movement or speech on the sidewalk, and she said no.” he said. “She said there was nothing in the permit that would restrict any movement on the sidewalk.”

When the Noise called Pavey several days later to confirm this information, the paper was told that she couldn’t talk to the press. When pushed to confirm that she told Benally that the sidewalks were to remain public space for special events permits, Pavey said such inquires needed to go through their lawyers.

“To me, it’s one thing for the mayor to say I’m unwelcome or a cop to say I’m unwelcome. It’s another thing to celebrate this unsustainable event. Through its special events permit, one of the criteria it has to meet is that it upholds the quality of life in Flagstaff. A free speech zone to me doesn’t reflect the quality of life in any community,” said Benally.

Beyond issues of free speech restriction, those protesting—evidenced through sign and speech—were primarily concerned with the use of over 300,000 gallons of Flagstaff’s drinking water used for recreation.

For Benally, it was a young Diné woman who said something that really stuck with him. “She comes from Cameron, AZ where the water is contaminated by uranium, by abandoned uranium mines that corporations left in her community—and little to nothing is being done to clean those up—so her community has to haul water. What she said, which was chilling to me and a chilling contrast to what was happening downtown as we watched the 60-degree sun melting away this drinking water, is that if her family misses a weekend to haul water, they have to go that week without water,” he said. “I just can’t reconcile that reality alongside this event.”

In a short NPR segment on the protests, Utilities Director Brad Hill noted that 300,000 gallons “isn’t very much.” That this is roughly the same amount of water Flagstaff delivers to residents in one hour. To put it another way, of the 276,000 gallons used for last year’s event, the Arizona Daily Sun noted that this is the same amount of water that six average-sized households use in a year.

For Benally and others, however, this event cannot be taken out of the context of ongoing water crisis in the southwest. Indeed, this winter has been one of Flagstaff’s driest on record. “Anyone who thinks it’s harmless to waste such a precious resource in the face of such a crisis is simply out of touch with the realities of life in the desert,” said Benally.

He also sees the use of over 300,000 gallons for recreation as hypocritical. While in the driest months, Flagstaff maintains strict water conservation rules that stipulate specific days of the week, and hours of the day that residents should water their lawns; there are other rules that place limits on the number of gallons for swimming pools. On the other hand, Benally sees the Dew Downtown event as one that “flies in the face of any type of sane and sustainable water conservation effort. It just sends a hypocritical message.”

Benally continues, “To be able to dismiss or delegitimize concerns over water when we’re facing such serious water crisis, its really a double standard. I mean what is the outcome of this event? It’s celebrating recreation. So essentially we’re wasting water for fun, and to me that sends the wrong message. If we’re trying to build a sustainable and healthy community, we need to think better than that, and act better than that,” he said.

Benally noted that last years Dew Downtown didn’t even break even, financially. “What the city is trying to do with this event is bring in tourism when businesses have a lull. So it’s purely economics and I think there are other ways of addressing the economic situation Flagstaff faces than just sending drinking water down the drain.”

View short impromptu documentary, covering some of the protests

Showdown with ADEQ: Citizens find Snowbowl Wastewater Violations

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

On December 26, two days after Arizona Snowbowl began making snow artificially from reclaimed wastewater, concerned residents Rudy Preston and Kathleen Nelson filed a complaint, along with photographs as documentation, that Snowbowl was violating state laws as well as not complying with many provisions outlined in their wastewater contract with the city of Flagstaff. The complaint was filed with both the City and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. On Tuesday, January 15, the City of Flagstaff voted unanimously to fully investigate the complaint. Likewise, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality responded to the complaint on January 23.

After more than a decade of lawsuits and staunch resistance from environmental groups, concerned citizens, and Indigenous Nations, it would seem that the moment the snowmaking machines were fired up would be a moment to celebrate. As a recent New York Times headline suggests, however, “Discolored Slopes Mar Debut of Snowmaking Effort,” the artificial snow was yellow.

As the same article continues, “The discolored snow has sharpened an already fraught conflict.” While Snowbowl’s general manager J.R. Murray has chalked the discoloration up to rusty residue in the new pipes, which carry the wastewater up the mountain from Flagstaff’s Rio de Flag treatment facility, other’s regard this as one of many ways the resort has and continues to evade responsibility in complying with state law and many of the provisions of their contract with the city.

In short, though the issue of yellow snow on the Peaks was covered by local and national media, the focus of the complaint has nothing to do with what the snow looks like. “We did not file it because of the yellow snow,” said Rudy Preston, one of the individuals who filed the complaint. “We filed it because the Snowbowl is violating the terms of their contract with the city and also numerous State environmental laws.”

After Rudy and Kathleen formerly presented their complaint to ADEQ along with their graphic evidence on January 23, the following response was given: “we did receive your complaint…the process is that if we receive an environmental complaint…we look into it.” A physical inspection of Snowbowl was conducted looking at “the alleged violations in the complaint” alongside “compliance of rules and regulations.”

Ultimately Daniel Czecholinski, ADEQ Water Quality Compliance Inspector, said that his department is “not going to make a statement on factual conclusions until they issue this inspection report and I’m certainly not going to make a statement on how the rule is interpreted and I couldn’t even do that anyway because I don’t have the rule in front of me.”

While neither Mr. Czecholinski nor ADEQ Communications Director Mark Shaffer, when asked, would comment on the parameters of the department’s inspection–whether any water quality tests were conducted or if the field survey would be its sole criteria–the department is mandated to release its inspection report in 30 working days. “When it’s finalized,” continued Mr. Czecholinkski, “we’ll send it out to all interested and responsible parties. It also becomes public record at that point.”

During the city council meeting where the complaint was presented, Kathleen Nelson emphasized the fact that because Snowbowl does not have their own permit through ADEQ to use reclaimed wastewater—that in fact, Snowbowl’s use of this water falls under the city’s umbrella of users designated in their permit. “It is the city’s job to enforce the terms of that permit,” she said. “The city is libel to lose its permit with ADEQ…it’s important that the city looks carefully at this for that reason…we’re the permit holders.”

Under the City of Flagstaff’s wastewater contract with Snowbowl, it states, “End user shall strictly comply with all the following requirements: Provide and install sufficient signage reading ‘Snow made with Reclaimed Wastewater, do not eat the snow or drink melted snow’ or similar warnings. Such signs shall be prominently displayed at each reuse site.”

The complaint contends that “not one sign was observed anywhere at the ski area that contains the above wording.” Instead, after hours of looking around, two small purple signs were found ten feet off the ground that stated, “In order to conserve natural resources reclaimed water used for snowmaking. Do not ingest.” Aside from this wording, which is not similar to the wording quoted in the contract, those who brought the complaint argue that the wording is manipulative in two ways. First, the word “waste” is left off, which they say downplays the threat and legality of ingestion of this water.

Second, the wording is articulated through a kind of rhetoric of conservation, which is not a new practice in Arizona. Considering, however, recent and ongoing studies that have revealed the presence of pharmaceuticals, hormones, industrial and household toxins, endocrine disruptors and antibiotic resistant bacteria, it’s clear that those who penned the complaint see this as pollution masked as conservation. But their concerns run deeper into the larger discourse around this water source in the west. “The words ‘reclaimed wastewater’ and even worse, ‘reclaimed water’ in itself is an issue since the legal term for this water is ‘treated sewage effluent.’ By renaming it, the City has diminished the warning to be almost meaningless,” so says the complaint.

Regarding proper signage, the city’s contract also stipulates where signs should be located. “Such signs shall be placed at all logical points of entry to each reuse site, at the entrance to all lakes and ponds at each reuse site, at all pumping outlets and at all hose bibs providing Reclaimed Wastewater.” The complaint follows that no signs were visible at any of these areas or entry points, including the Hart Prairie and Sunset lifts, ticket booths, ski school entry points, nor were signs found anywhere near snowmaking equipment or the storage pond.

The “most egregious” of issues related to signage, as the complaint follows, is in regard to an area where children play and roll around in the snow, which was also free of signs. “When parents were asked if they knew what the snow was made from, many stated they didn’t know and made faces of disgust.” As Preston made clear during the city council meeting, however, the signage issue is “the smallest portion of [the] complaint.”

The complaint further follows an argument that was raised in court on more than one occasion (Save the Peaks et al. v US Department of Agriculture and Hopi Tribe v. City of Flagstaff), but was never directly addressed. The contract with the City states “Reclaimed Wastewater delivered under this agreement shall not be directly or indirectly utilized or transferred for any uses other than snowmaking.” Although “snowmaking” is covered under the contract of acceptable uses, the complaint exposes the fragility of the legal language in asserting that skiing is also a “direct reuse” of this water, as is “sitting in, rolling around on, and sledding on the reclaimed wastewater snow.” Such activities like swimming, wind surfing, water skiing, or other activities, which constitute “full-immersion” are similarly prohibited by state law. The complaint makes the case that skiing and other related activities “are immersive” and “have a very likely potential for ingestion through the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and skin.”

Along this same line of thinking is the consideration of sanitation as it relates to eating areas. Under state law, “A permittee irrigating with reclaimed wastewater shall: 3. Prevent reclaimed water from coming into contact with drinking fountains, water coolers, or eating areas.” It should come as no surprise that, according to the complaint, “Skiers where observed tracking treated wastewater into and throughout the lodge and eating areas and additionally were observed with reclaimed wastewater on their clothes and gloves using and touching water fountains.”

The trouble of course is all the uncertainty that is raised through an exploration into these questions. When reclaimed wastewater snow mixes with the regular snow, is it diluted enough to pose a risk? Considering that on some days, reclaimed wastewater snow is the top layer, and other days it functions as a base layer, how can laws really account for concrete notions of exposure? Considering that reclaimed wastewater is not one homogenous thing, that the day-to-day compounds found in the water is in constant flux, should there be systems in place that account for days where the water is proven to be unsafe?

A recent Mother Jones article uses the issue of snowmaking at Snowbowl as a frame to talk about the growing use of sewage recycling, particularly in the southwest. “Population growth and climate change mean that water is becoming ever more scarce in the southwest. The article claims that the “Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the United States reclaims about 8 percent of it’s sewage water; four states—Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas—are responsible for as much as 90 percent of that figure.”

In addressing the Flagstaff City Council, Kathleen Nelson introduced the complaint her and Mr. Preston filed by addressing the larger implications of using this water, beyond Snowbowl, and beyond Arizona. “The more we’re using this reclaimed wastewater; we need to be ensuring that it is being used in a safe and proper method.” As much as the complaint might come across to some as nitpicking the wording of contractual and state law, the implications go far beyond the details, and address the rapid and on-going toxification of our total environment. The city of Flagstaff, and the practices of Snowbowl, has the nation’s attention. Decisions made here should be made with intention, framed with ideas of what direction we want to move—toward a sane and sustainable future with respect for those natural water systems that we owe our lives? Or one that is increasingly toxic?

You are the Mountain

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

(photo by John Running. more wheat paste art here)

What we do to the mountain, we do to ourselves,
we say again through hoarse voices that shake, and are quickly carried off by that which sways the trees. This time, as sharp as pine needles, we repeat:
what we do to the mountain we do to ourselves.
Gazing upward toward the elegantly sloping figure of the Peaks, we turn back toward each other, pressing forehead against forehead. We close our eyes tightly, this time whispering through clenched teeth.

What we do to the mountain, we do to ourselves.

We stand like this in silence. And at first, I feel my toes going numb. The wind makes your tears cold to the touch; cupping your cheeks, I take a deep breath, opening my eyes to meet yours. I see deep inside you a reflection of myself, of the mountain, of eternity. When I look into those deep irises, I realize it is not a numbness I feel, but my body surrendering. And suddenly there is no difference between my body and the soil beneath my feet, my heart and yours. The birds, the wind, the trees, the trickle of snowmelt, and you, my love, I feel you as intimately as my own flesh.
And I know you see it too.
You are so beautiful.
You are the mountain.

You rise from where the desert sands become rocky, from where valleys become canyons. You rise from the mesquite-covered Black Hills to the cottonwood trees tracing the gentle form of the Verde River—that river, still wild—that river, which owes you its life.

You rise from the Painted Desert, from the Hopi Mesas, where sagebrush gives way to piñon and juniper. And still you rise over the Vermillion Cliffs, where the condor sore through Marble Canyon.

Alas, you were there when the Little Colorado finally pushed through the sandstone to meet its parent at the confluence.
Alas, you have known the Grand Canyon since it was a mere crack on the horizon.

You are the mountain.
You rise above the Mogollon Rim as the highest point on the Colorado Plateau, where a sea of ponderosa pine embrace Douglas fur, evergreen, and groves of yellow aspen, toward your uppermost reaches, where you kiss the clouds that gently glide over your body.

You are the mountain.
And you are so much more than this. It was Leopold who got it wrong in Thinking Like a Mountain. Not thinking, so much as remembering, means that one does not need to kill a wolf to understand the green fire. Inside those windows that shine so brightly, there is a still a green fire, a life carved from more than rock and soil. You are the wildflowers, the grasses, and the moss. You are the tassel-eared squirrel dancing among the lush green fern. You are the elk sipping melted snow, only to pause briefly before skipping off without a sound.

You are the mountain.
You are the horny toad waiting for the frost, the swagger of the skunk, the prick of the porcupine, and the transformation of the butterfly. You are the rabbit looking up at the raven eying the snake that is waiting for the mouse. You are the soil that feeds the trees that caress the streams that form the canyons. You are the trees that sway like hair and the roots that embrace roots deep below your skin. You are the snow that collects in the pond where the salamander lives that teases the birds that live in the trees that will one day return to the soil.

Without all of these things the mountain would be dead.
And you, my love, you are very much alive.
You are the mountain.

Your integrity is sustained, not through myths of science, or through the myths of the Forest Service, but through an understanding that what we do to the mountain we do to ourselves, that water, blood, and soil are not so categorically different.

You are the mountain.
Both physically and emotionally, you have scars. You are the reason for the city built upon your foothills, and it is you upon which the city fashions an identity, the mountain town. Yet they cut you deeper. They name your wounds: Larry’s line, Mo’s Bowl, Yogi’s Catwalk, the Dutchman;
mortal names carved onto your immortal body.
They bleed you out as surely as they bleed themselves; the green pipe, the surgically implanted artificial veins, from which they flow poison, from which they flow arrogance.

You have been led to believe, however, that you are not the mountain.
They poison you with dogma as surely as they do with reclaimed wastewater. You have been, as that drunken poet said, “born into this.” Born, the stone-age baby into the chaotic maelstrom of western, first world existence, born with a beating heart and a ferociously hungry imagination, born with empathy, compassion, and love.

Yet you have been led to believe that dignity is something earned, that it can be given and taken away; you have been led to believe that you do not need the trees, the rivers, the valleys, the canyons, the falling snow, the mountains.

But you do. And you have always known this.

You are the mountain,
which is to say you are much more than what you have been told. You know things you don’t remember learning. The collective memory of millennia is stashed away in your unconscious. Every now and then, and rather unexpectedly, the knowledge of your ancestors, of my ancestors, appears in your waking life. You are more than your job. You are more than your voting record. You are more than the films you enjoy or the music you collect. You are more than firing synapses and coursing serotonin. And you are no more your physical features than you are the muscle and the bones and the blood flowing beneath them. Every cell in your body has been completely replaced over and over again.
Yet you remain inexplicably you.

It is not what we do to the mountain; after all, it is what they do to the mountain, to you, to me, to all of us that is at stake. And the only real question is:
how will you respond?

Under the concrete, beneath the layers of social constructions, of cultural myths about the one right way to live, beyond a dominant culture no longer driven by well-meaning hearts like yours, there is a world you used to know, a real world that deeply misses you.

Will you hide within yourself or will you rise like the mountain you are?

Tree-sit Halts Construction of Reclaimed Wastewater Pipeline

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Three years ago, one could find him at the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort snowboarding on a regular basis. Today, James Kennedy is better known as one of many northern Arizona activists who have and continue to risk their safety and freedom to stop the resort from moving forward with plans to use reclaimed wastewater to make artificial snow.

For months, Kennedy and others had been monitoring the construction of the 14-mile pipeline, the remaining sections of which are currently being dug out on Lowell Observatory’s property on Mars Hill, just west of Thorpe Park. On Monday August 20, Kennedy took further action by occupying a large ponderosa pine tree, which was tied first to other trees in the vicinity, then anchored to a large trench-digging machine. This is what is referred to as Kennedy’s lifeline. The tree-sit halted construction for three full days before Kennedy, who had enough food and supplies in the tree to last a month, chose to come down Thursday morning due to a severe lightening storm in the area.

A day into Kennedy’s tree-sit, supporters noticed unidentified men messing around with his lifeline. “They were swinging around on James’ lifeline as if it were a monkey bar, and when we told them that they were endangering his life they said, ‘it’s coming down today anyway,’” recalled Alex Iwasa. At this point Iwasa and Erik Fettig locked themselves to the machinery, blocking access to the lifeline, thus protecting Kennedy from threats to cut the line. Both men were cut out by police and arrested for trespassing. Eventually, police did remove the lifeline, which jostled James’ platform. Fortunately James was not injured.

The action comes after two days of education and protests. On August 18, a well-attended Teach-in at Northern Arizona University’s new Native American Cultural Center took place throughout the day, which included panels, workshops, and small group sessions that addressed issues related to the history of the controversy surrounding development on the San Francisco Peaks, including information on sacred sites, environmental justice, legal cases, water issues, and promoted many ways concerned folks could get involved.

The day of the Teach-In also marked the final steps of Diné activist Kris Barney’s 200-mile “prayer walk” from his home in Rough Rock, AZ to the San Francisco Peaks to bring awareness to what he refers to as an “attack,” and “ecocide” in favor of “recreational expansion.”

The next day dozens of protestors converged on the Rio Del Flag wastewater treatment plant where one individual had locked himself to the front gate by the neck with a U-Lock. The treatment plant is scheduled to supply the Arizona Snowbowl with reclaimed wastewater as early as November. After holding down the entrance for four hours, protestors decided to leave due to concerns about the weather. There were no arrests.

In terms of legal updates, the actions come as Howard Shanker, attorney for the Save the Peaks Coalition waits to hear whether or not the full eleven-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will grant his petition for a rehearing, challenging the Republican appointed 3-judge panel’s decision to impose sanctions on the lawyer. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader, among a list of lawyers and indigenous human rights groups across the country continue to express support for Shanker. Supporters are concerned that such a decision would deter other lawyers from taking on politically charged cases for free.

The Noise caught up with Kennedy on the second day of his tree sit, just before he prepared his lunch, at least 80 feet up in the tree. From his perch, Kennedy said, “I can see all of town, and directly east of me are the San Francisco Peaks,” described Kennedy. “It’s a beautiful view.” On today’s tree-sit menu: some hot soup with carrots and bell peppers from his garden. He didn’t answer his phone right away, as his stash of food was in a bag a little further up the tree.

When asked what his primary reasons are for staging this kind of nonviolent demonstration, Kennedy voiced much concern over the safety of reclaimed wastewater, noting recent studies that the courts or the Forest Service never considered. “There are several recent studies that came out, some of which came out in The Noise about the detrimental affects of treated sewage water on trees and the environment,” said Kennedy. “And most recently Robin Silver—it wasn’t his research but a team of researchers and students that reported to him—tested pubic sources of treated sewage effluent in Flagstaff for bacteria, attempting to answer questions regarding, what bacteria survives the treatment process? In at least three different samples, they found bacteria that contain antibiotic resistant genes. The study found evidence of MRSA, antibiotic resistant Enterococcus, stuff like that. Really dangerous stuff,” said Kennedy.

The report Kennedy refers to, “Antibiotic Resistance Gene Testing of Recycled Water Samples in Flagstaff, AZ,” was released in August of this year. “Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem and is a major challenge to human medicine because it results in drugs losing their effectiveness for treating bacterial infections,” so explains the rational for the study. The study found that the presence of ARGs, although “relatively diminished” in the newly recycled water, was “dramatically increased at the point of use.”

The study then expresses concerns that “there are no water quality standards defining a ‘safe’ level of ARGs,” while at the same time the study seems skeptical of Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s ability to accurately rate the safety of treated water. “Water quality standards are primarily based on coliform testing.” ADEQ can rate the quality of water as “Class A+ reclaimed water,” if there are less than 23 coliform organisms per 100 ml of any given sample. This “falls short,” explains the study, “in assessing risks of many pathogens, especially in recycled water.” This obviously calls into question all uses of reclaimed wastewater, not just on the Peaks or McMillian Mesa’s proposed snow-play area, but everywhere the water is used.

“So this is what is being sprayed on our fields. Kids run through the fields and essentially get sprayed down with antibiotic resistant bacteria. So I think that really spurned me into action,” said Kennedy.

Even if the city did take measures to ensure the quality of the wastewater goes above and beyond the standards of ADEQ, there is still the very real issue of responsible water use in the west. “I’ve spoken to city employees among others who say, if there were a catastrophic wildfire near Lake Mary, that such an event would ruin that water supply and we’d have an immediate water shortage,” explains Kennedy. “Beyond that, we’re still looking at 20 years until we run out of water. And regardless of whose water we try to steal, such as from Red Gap Ranch and other places, if the wastewater can be made safe, it’s still a resource for the community and it shouldn’t be sold off to private interests,” he said.

When pressed to recall a specific moment when he changed his mind from being one who supports snowbowl as a snowboarder to the outspoken critic he is today, Kennedy explained how a Hopi woman he worked with allowed him to see his priorities in a new way. “Three years ago, I had a season pass so I went almost every day. But it’s just recreation, you know? It’s not something that takes precedence over someone else’s culture and life.”

Police say they are planning to arrest Kennedy, and Lowell Observatory plans to press trespassing charges.