#LittleColoradoRiver Dam Developer Surrenders Two of Three Dam Proposals — The #GrandCanyon Trust #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Carbonate blue water near Salt Trail campground on the Little Colorado river. Photo credit: Adam Haydock via the Grand Canyon Trust

From The Grand Canyon Trust (Amanda Podmore):

Good news! After two years of tireless advocacy led by the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, and Hualapai Tribe, a would-be hydroelectric dam developer has requested the cancellation of two preliminary permits for dams on the lower Little Colorado River above the confluence with the Colorado River inside the Grand Canyon.

Pumped Hydro Storage LLC sent two letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) requesting the permits for its Little Colorado River and Salt Trail Canyon proposals be surrendered, citing strong opposition from the Navajo Nation, environmentalists, and others, as well as investment risks. This news comes two years after the developer first proposed the projects on Navajo Nation land in a region of deep cultural importance to many tribes.

Developer failed to work with tribes

Despite community opposition to the two dam proposals and interventions and objections from the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, and the Hualapai Tribe, Native organizations like Save the Confluence, and conservation organizations including the Grand Canyon Trust, FERC awarded preliminary permits for both the Little Colorado River and Salt Trail Canyon dam proposals. The developer was not required to get consent from the Navajo Nation or even consult with tribes, underscoring deep flaws in the permitting process. The company’s decision to surrender the permits for these two projects is a testament to the hard work of tribes, community organizers, and concerned citizens like you who took action and submitted comments. Thank you.

A river too fragile for dams

Had these hydroelectric dam proposals moved forward, the consequences on this arid landscape would have been severe. The lower Little Colorado River flows perennially into the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, and its warm turquoise-blue waters shelter the endangered humpback chub when it is spawning.

The lower Little Colorado River is a spiritual place best left untouched by development, as grassroots community members and tribes have requested. It is home to the Hopi place of emergence along with innumerable other cultural sites. Upstream dams could alter this place of reverence and beauty.

Two down, one more dam to go

Map credit: The Grand Canyon Trust

Unfortunately, the developer’s request to surrender these two permits is a reminder of the work ahead. The developer is still waiting to hear back on a preliminary permit for the Big Canyon dam proposal on a tributary to the Little Colorado River. The Big Canyon dam remains the developer’s priority — and our biggest concern. The Big Canyon dam proposal, which is also on Navajo Nation land and opposed by many tribes, would require pumping groundwater and likely alter the blue waters of the Little Colorado River.

West Drought Monitor map July 27, 2021.

Drought underlines the imprudence of the Big Canyon dam

The developer is proposing to pump about 44,000 acre feet (about 14.3 billion gallons) of groundwater, plus an additional 10,000 to 15,000 acre feet (3.2 to 4.8 billion gallons) per year to make up for water lost to evaporation in order to fill the Big Canyon dam in an arid landscape already facing extreme drought and water restrictions. Currently, there are potable water restrictions across the Navajo Nation. It is alarming that the developer is continuing to push a proposal to pump additional groundwater to power this project in order to produce electricity for distant city centers in the middle of this drought.

It is unknown when FERC will make a decision on the Big Canyon dam proposal’s preliminary permit application, which, if granted, would initiate a 3-year period for a feasibility study. What we do know is we will continue to stand with local communities and fight this unwanted and inappropriate proposal tooth and nail. If you haven’t already, please sign the petition to Keep the Canyon Grand and join our action alert network. We’ll let you know when there’s an opportunity to speak up.

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