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.