Making Snow With Recycled Sewage Could Breed Super Bacteria

It’s been a long time since snow was safe to eat. But if an Arizona resort goes through with its plan to make artificial snow out of sewage effluent (yes, you read that correctly) it might not even be safe to ski on. According to still-unpublished research, the wastewater recycling system could turn the mountain into a breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant genes.

Since Arizona is mostly desert, it’s no surprise that the Arizona Snowbowl resort depends on artificial snow to stay in business. Making fake snow is a costly endeavor, requiring millions of gallons of water in a state where water is an increasingly precious resource. To alleviate some of the demand, Arizona Snowbowl struck a deal with the City of Flagstaff: the resort agreed to buy 1.5 million gallons of wastewater per day from a local treatment plant at a better price than the treated water it had been using. In addition, the resort planned to construct a 15-mile pipeline to transport the water from the city to a reservoir on its property.

Normally, we’d applaud a move to recycle water instead of consuming more of the already depleted resource, even if it is for something as silly as making fake snow. Now, research out of Virginia Tech seems to indicate that environmental and Native American groups were right to warn that making snow out of sewage is dangerous for people and wildlife.

Although the number of antibiotic resistant genes was “relatively diminished” in water sourced from the treatment facility, their presence dramatically increased at the point of use, such as sprinkler heads, according to the report. “This means bacteria is growing in the distribution pipes,” said Amy Pruden, the study’s author and an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech. Note: the sprinkler heads are installed on the mountain and are the last thing the “snow” touches before landing on the slopes. Or your face. Antibiotic-resistant genes especially dangerous because they can impede the body’s ability to fight disease.

The study has not been published or peer-reviewed yet, but as the New York Times points out, Flagstaff officials are taking it seriously enough to have invited Dr. Pruden to serve on an advisory panel that the city formed last week. Apparently, the ski resort still plans to move forward with the snow-making effort.

“Scientists are now able to detect things in minute amounts that they were never able to detect before,” J.R. Murray, Snowbowl’s general manager, told the NYT. “That doesn’t mean those substances are harmful.”


Related Reading:

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4 Ways Drought Threatens U.S. Drinking Water And Aquatic Life

U.S. Waters Polluted By 10 Million Pounds Of Dog Poop


Images via Thinkstock


Winn Adams
Winn A5 years ago


Vicky P.
Vicky P5 years ago


Debra Griffin
Missy G5 years ago

No really?? Who would have thought

Valentina R.
Valentina R5 years ago

Fake snow sucks.

Jim Bynum
James Bynum5 years ago

What most people don't realize is that reclaimed water is the "good" part. The residue of that reclaimed water is concentrated toxic sewage sludge (biosolds) which is used on food crops. LA ships a lot of theirs to Yuma.

Gene Jacobson
Gene Jacobson5 years ago

(continued)but become the stuff of nightmares instead. And we did it, do it, to ourselves. Over and over again in every walk of life. WE have become the boogeyman under the bed. And we should be shamed by that truth.

Gene Jacobson
Gene Jacobson5 years ago

"Although the number of antibiotic resistant genes was “relatively diminished” in water sourced from the treatment facility, their presence dramatically increased at the point of use, such as sprinkler heads, according to the report."

I mentioned on another story that I can remember when rain water was pure enough to drink as a child but that now if you leave your car out during a rain, it will look as if you've been driving in a mud derby. The same is true of snow, I remember it falling pure and clean as a child too, eating it as kids do, while playing. I would never do that today, I would tell any child I saw doing that to stop because it will make them sick. And explain why. The very idea of using untreated water to make snow for skiing is ludicrous. How anyone could possibly think this a good idea is beyond me. We already know about drug resistant bacteria, we use our sleeves or a tissue to open doors during the winter season to avoid winter illnesses, yet we are willing to ski in snow that is poisonous to the land and the people who come in contact with it? When did common sense disappear and how do we get it back? This is but one more example of the greatest tragedy of our times, businesses and people, putting money before people's well being. Dollars should NEVER count more than people's lives. Yet in virtually every aspect of life, in this time, they do. That is a shame on us that will not go quietly into that good night, but become the stuff o

Spirit Spider
Spirit Spider5 years ago

In the snow season here they do 'cloud seeding' to start the season on time. Of course that brings up a whole host of other issues but it's not sewerage.

Stephen Day
Steve Day5 years ago

I can't imagine who would want to ski and play on mountains of crap... well, maybe the guys over at Jack-ass.

Suzette L.
Suzette L5 years ago

I think this is an all around BAD IDEA. The threat to the environment is too high.