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Making snow from reclaimed wastewater likely not an option for Park City-area resorts

A local ski resort has explored reusing treated wastewater to make snow, a growing practice in the weather-dependent industry. But a law enacted in 2023 likely prevents the practice.

According to the Montana Free Press, over a dozen ski resorts in eight U.S. states, Canada, Switzerland and Australia use recycled wastewater to make snow. Now, a Park City area ski resort — which doesn’t want to be named — wants to do the same.

Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District Director Mike Luers said he has worked with the resort for several years to figure out how to use treated wastewater, also known as reclaimed water, to make snow.

“They want to be able to produce more snow than what they're capable of producing with their current water rights,” he said. “So if we can use treated wastewater, that would enable them to utilize the current water rights and put more snow on the hill and not pull out so much water from our local streams or purchasing additional water from a water company.”

Luers said the challenge facing resorts is there aren’t additional water rights available to purchase, so avenues to get more water for snowmaking are limited. Access to reclaimed water would make a difference in the amount of snow resorts could produce, he said.

And while snow made from treated wastewater might sound unpleasant, Luers said it would not pose any health risks to skiers. That’s because the Snyderville Basin district cleans its wastewater to a very high level as it goes back into mountain streams that are home to sensitive trout species.

But Luers said a Utah bill passed in 2023 makes it unlikely Park City-area resorts would ever be allowed to tap reclaimed water. HB349 was one of many bills meant to protect and preserve the Great Salt Lake after its historic low in 2022. The legislation prohibits water reuse projects — such as selling wastewater to resorts — from diverting water from the Great Salt Lake and Luers said treated water from the reclamation district does end up in the Great Salt Lake.

The East Canyon facility discharges into East Canyon Creek, which dumps into East Canyon Reservoir, and then flows into the Weber River which carries it to the Great Salt Lake. The Silver Creek Facility discharges into Silver Creek, which goes into Echo Reservoir, which also flows into the Weber River and into the Great Salt Lake.

“If you were to take wastewater, make snow out of it, put it on the hill, it could evaporate, and the amount of water entering the stream would be less than it would be if we just discharged it directly into the stream,” Luers said.

That means it will be difficult to get approval for a new reuse project in the Park City area, Luers said, unless there was a way to replace the reused water.