FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The Little Colorado River cuts across the northeast corner of Arizona, emptying its waters into the much-larger Colorado River after a more than 330-mile journey.
Few people wander in the remote region where it crosses the Navajo Nation, aside from river rafters traveling through the Grand Canyon, tribal members and occasional hikers.
That solitude in a lonely stretch of desert would be pierced by workers, roads and possibly more tourists if a long-term plan by a recently formed Phoenix-based company that wants to put in dams for power generation comes to fruition.
The proposals are reigniting the same concerns that were brought up years ago over a failed plan to build a gondola to ferry people into the Grand Canyon on the Navajo reservation: protecting tribal sacred sites, endangered fish and serenity.
Pumped Hydro Storage LLC is seeking approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for preliminary permits to study the sites east of Grand Canyon National Park over three years. None of it will move forward without permission from the Navajo Nation.
Navajo President Jonathan Nez said he has been briefed by tribal economic development officials about the proposals to create four reservoirs — two of which would be directly on the Little Colorado River — but hasn’t talked with anyone from Pumped Hydro Storage.
“With any project or proposal that is presented to the Navajo Nation, we weigh the pros and cons in terms of employment opportunities, economic development, water resources, environmental impact and other factors,” Nez said. “We are ever mindful that we must respect our environment. The local Navajo communities must be informed, and their voices must be heard.”
The largest of the reservoirs would be northeast of Grand Canyon National Park with a smaller reservoir to the south. Together, they’d store more than 30,000 acre-feet of water and produce 3,200 megawatts of energy sent to an existing switchyard near the Navajo community of Cameron, although transmission lines would have to be extended, according to documents filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Another facility would use less than half that amount of water and produce 1,500 megawatts of energy.
The Little Colorado River has some limits of its own. It doesn’t flow year-round and can carry heavy sediment during the spring runoff and monsoon season, which could choke up dams. The endangered humpback chub also spawns in the Little Colorado River where the water is warmer than in the main stem Colorado River.