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Soda Springs first California ski resort to make snow with recycled wastewater

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Visit bit.ly/1U5lSEY to learn more about Soda Springs’ recycled water initiative.

Soda Springs Mountain Resort will host an event to celebrate the inauguration of its recycled water project on Dec. 19 beginning at 11 a.m. The resort is also scheduled to open for the 2015-16 season that same day.

Visit skisodasprings.com to learn more.

NORDEN, Calif. — Like all ski areas in the Tahoe-Truckee region, Soda Springs Mountain Resort's efforts to stretch out its operations during California's four-year drought has been an uphill climb.

Faced with insufficient drinking water available to make snow, the Donner Summit resort was forced to think outside the box for a way to keep its slopes covered during the winter season.

"Not only did we need a snowmaking system," said Amy Ohran, the Soda Springs general manager, "but we needed to find an inventive way to find a sustainable water resource."

What Soda Springs found was a source that was largely untapped: recycled water.

Fueled by a shared vision and partnership with Donner Summit Public Utility District, Soda Springs became the first ski area in California to make snow using recycled wastewater.

"Obviously it's thrilling for a smaller ski resort like Soda Springs — through the support and partnership with the Donner Summit PUD — to be a part of this innovation," Ohran said. "We're proud. This is part of our long-term sustainability efforts. To do this project at Soda Springs is really, really exciting.

"The biggest benefit is having a predictable and complete operating season. That benefits our guests who are purchasing season passes and our day-visiting guests that are bringing their families to learn to ski and snowboard, which is such a point of pride of Soda Springs."

The recycled water being used comes from a neighboring DSPUD treatment plant that completed a $24 million overhaul in July. The upgraded treatment process enabled the water to meet the state's regulated discharge requirements.

As a result, the snow is made from highly treated, crystal clear and pathogen-free water that is cleaner than surface water, Ohran said.

"The outcome is the whitest snow that I've seen come out of man-made snowmaking equipment," she added. "The highest grade is tertiary, and this is tertiary-level water that is being produced."

What's more, the snow that is made also serves as an effective way to store water in the winter; it will be released back into the ground and surface water flows as the snow melts next spring.

Ohran, who also manages Boreal Mountain Resort, feels that recycled water snowmaking may soon be the trend.

"Recycled water is really the most drought-proof water source," she said. "The challenge for any ski resort is how much a utility district can produce."

DSPUD General Manager Tom Skjelstad said the amount of recycled water available to Soda Springs in any given year will hinge on how much wastewater flows into the treatment plant.

"So in a year when we don't have much snow and the resorts aren't really open, there aren't many people on the hill, so there would be less flow coming in," said Skjelstad, who noted that the plant serves 245 residential customers, four ski resorts, and a few nearby rest areas. "If the ski areas are open, then people are on the hill and that gives us more treated affluent."

Additionally, Skjelstad said the district is "thrilled" to help pioneer this form of snowmaking with Soda Springs.

"We're proud to be a part of this," he said. "It's great for the community and it's good for the environment. We get to save on drinking water, and it helps one our businesses up here on Donner Summit — Soda Springs — take advantage of the recycled water."

According to media reports, Arizona Snowbowl ski resort in 2012 switched to recycled wastewater for its snowmaking, prompting the U.S. Forest Service to state that, "using reclaimed water to make snow is an environmentally and economically responsible decision," in response to some criticism.