By Scott Buffon for Arizona Daily Sun
A federal agency has approved two permits for a hydroelectric dam developer to study the Little Colorado River located on Navajo Nation for their applications to build up to four dams.
However, in early March the same developer, Pumped Hydro Storage, submitted a third groundwater dam application in Big Canyon, which is a dry canyon attached to the Little Colorado River. The Federal Energy Regulation Commission has yet to accept the application for Big Canyon, according to Pumped Hydro.
The first two dam projects on the Little Colorado River caused significant backlash from Native American tribes and environmentalists in 2019. The preliminary permits would not allow Pumped Hydro to begin building anytime soon, but would only allow them to begin studying whether the site is feasible for their pending hydroelectric dam projects.
The developer’s Little Colorado River applications ask for a total of four dams that could hold thousands of acre-feet of water and would create and store electricity. The electricity would connect with the Moenkopi switchyard near Cameron through a 22-mile-long, 500-kilovolt transmission line.
Environmentalists heavily oppose the dams because they were located on critical habitat for the threatened humpback chub.
The river is considered sacred to several Native American tribes that objected to the project.
While issuing the preliminary permits, FERC said the groups who voiced their concerns about impacts to endangered species and tribal lands were done “premature” and could be filed again at a later date.
The Big Canyon application could create four dams and draw upon groundwater for its reservoirs.
Big Canyon is known to be dry throughout most of the year, excluding flooding during heavy rain. The project recommends building a two-lane asphalt road connecting Highway 89 north of Tuba City to Big Canyon.
Three of the four dams are proposed to be hundreds of feet tall by hundreds of feet wide. The fourth dam is expected to be 10,000 feet wide by 200 feet tall. The four reservoirs would contain approximately 73,000 acre feet of water among the four reservoirs and have an energy output of 3,600 megawatts.
FERC has not accepted the application. If the agency accepts it, the public will have a 60-day window to submit comments.
Read more at Arizona Daily Sun.