News Feature | December 9, 2015

Upgraded Treatment Plant Provides Wastewater Snow

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

California is getting its first ski slopes with snow made from recycled wastewater.

The conservation measure is a response to low levels of snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains as a result of the drought. “In a testament to how water-dependent industries are adapting amid California’s four-year drought, Soda Springs Mountain Resort this winter will be the first in California to use recycled wastewater for its snow-making system,” The Sacramento Bee reported.

A Donner Summit Public Utility District (DSPUD) treatment plant will provide the water. It recently received a $24 million upgrade. Snowboarder Magazine described the new plant:

In June 2015, DSPUD completed [the project] converting its treatment process from an older chlorination/de-chlorination system to a state of the art, UV distillation process, resulting in highly treated, pathogen-free, crystal clear water outcome that is cleaner than surface water. The snow that is made is effective water storage in the winter and will be released back into the ground and surface water flows as the snow melts.

There will be signs urging skiers against eating the snow, reports said.

The backdrop is that even though recycled water is used for irrigation in California, using it for snow is more novel in the drought-ridden state, the Bee reported.

In another state, this application has proved controversial.

“In 2012, the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort switched to treated wastewater for making its snow, despite complaints from local Indian tribes and some environmental groups, according to news reports. The U.S. Forest Service gave its blessing, saying the treated water was safe and provided the least-harmful alternative,” the report said.

The Navajo and 12 other tribes say the use of reclaimed wastewater pollutes the mountains. "Snowbowl is a private concession on U.S. Forest Service land, nestled amid the San Francisco Peaks, an area regarded by Navajos as one of the four most sacred locations on Earth," The Arizona Republic reported.

For more on drought solutions, visit Water Online’s Water Scarcity Solutions Center.