|San Juan School District revisits snowmaking on San Francisco Peaks
By John Bianchini
FLAGSTAFF - Students from the San Juan School District in the Four Corners and southern Utah area returned to Flagstaff on March 19 to revisit the issue of snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks.
Last summer, these students spent a week at Northern Arizona University with the Environmental Education Outreach Program, part of the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals at NAU. The purpose of ITEP is to assist tribes with environmental training and education.
During the summer, students learned the basics of testing water and about the issue of snowmaking from the Forest Service and Arizona Snowbowl Manager J.R. Murray.
Students performed water tests to compare the differences between natural-source water from Oak Creek and treated water from a Flagstaff water treatment facility.
"Since there is no such thing as 'pure' water in nature, scientists must establish a baseline for comparison. We chose to use Oak Creek water for the baseline because we knew the students would enjoy spending the day in the Oak Creek canyon," said Mansel Nelson, EEOP program director. Nelson has been working with regional tribal youth since 1998 to raise awareness about waste management, air and water quality issues. He and his assistant Fredrick Sherman are also active in educating local reservation communities about the impacts of uranium and radiation.
Sherman gave the students a brief lecture about the possible dangers associated with reclaimed water.
"The impacts of endocrine disrupters found in wastewater effluents is on the cutting edge of scientific study; many questions abound, with few definite scientific answers. Currently, Dr. Catherine Propper with the NAU Biology Department, is studying the issue," Sherman said.
Students and faculty from the San Juan School District liked the EEOP Summer Scholars program so much, they decided to come back to Flagstaff to revisit the issue of snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks while there was snow on the mountain.
"The EEOP staff follow the national guidelines for environmental education, which includes the principles of balance and fairness in all educational efforts. We help students distinguish between scientific facts, personal opinions and cultural values. The decision making process involves all three," Nelson said.
"I think this was a positive and profound educational experience for my students. I look forward to coming back next summer to cover more environmental issues," said Gary Winigar, a science teacher from San Juan High.
Warm temperatures brought Snowbowl to the end of its season with a few measly inches-deep patches of snow. Only a handful of Phoenix tourists and locals were present, risking damage to their skis and snowboards.
Murray said that the unpredictability of the snow season in northern Arizona has hurt his business to the point to where if it does not make snow, then the ski resort will have to go out of business.
"Snowmaking is important to the local economy," Murray said. However, Benally, who spoke to the kids from his experience and perspective on tribal traditions and the mountain, raised questions about snowmaking.
"Is it right that these economic values are given precedence over the spiritual and cultural values of local tribes?" Benally asked. "It has been an interesting journey for me to grow up with this issue to come and understand what the mountain represents with all the politics surrounding it from dominant culture's business interest vs. our traditional values."
Derick Mitchell, a sophomore at Whitehorse High, summed up what he got out of the trip.
"I like to learn about science and environmental issues to know what I can do to make a difference," said Mitchell.