DATE: September 27, 2019
SNIP: A Phoenix company wants to build two hydroelectric dams less than five miles from the eastern border of Grand Canyon National Park, submerging several miles of the Little Colorado River and the endangered fish habitat it protects.
If they’re built, the dams could produce more than just electricity. Environmentalists say the project could further imperil the fish, the native humpback chub, interfere with the Canyon’s already-degraded hydrology and irreparably damage sites held sacred by at least one Arizona tribe.
Pumped Hydro Storage LLC recently applied for a preliminary permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to begin the process of developing a hydroelectric dam project on the Little Colorado River. The dams would rise on Navajo Nation land, close to the eastern border of the Grand Canyon.
A 240-feet-tall upper dam would be sited about 3,000 feet higher in elevation than the 140-feet-tall lower dam. Both dams would enclose reservoirs, one of which would stretch 2 miles up the Little Colorado River Gorge. Turbines would pump water through underground tunnels between the two bodies of water.
A paved road would be constructed between State Route 89A and the Salt Trail Canyon where it emerges into the Little Colorado, and a new 20-mile-long transmission line would be built to the existing Moenkopi substation.
“(The dam) will industrialize what is now a very remote area,” said Taylor McKinnon, senior public lands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity. The project would further impede the recovery of the endangered humpback chub, the last remaining chub species within the Grand Canyon, he said.
“It would flood miles of humpback chub habitat and imperil one of its most important spawning sites by altering the flow downstream at the confluence with the Colorado River,” McKinnon said. “It would also flood and eliminate river habitat.”
The project would also remove about 13,000 acre-feet of water from other uses, since it would be contained within the two reservoirs.
And the dam would affect one of the Hopi Tribe’s most sacred places, Sipapu, located near the Salt Trail Canyon.
In the 1950s and 60s, a series of dams were proposed along the Grand Canyon and its tributaries for water storage. Those were also scrapped, a decision that ultimately led to the construction of Navajo Generating Station.
“Every dam that was proposed for that same stretch of the river was deemed unfeasible because the reservoir would fill with sediment,” Roger Clark, program director for the Grand Canyon Trust, said. Moreover, he said, the sediment trapped by the new dams would not flow to the Colorado, where it’s needed to keep beaches built up, provide camouflage for indigenous fish like the chub and provides other environmental benefits to the riverine system.