FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — 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 brought up years ago with 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’s 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.”

A public comment period on the permit applications runs through Nov. 22.

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.

The other facility would use less than half that amount of water and produce 1,500 megawatts of energy.

Steve Irwin, manager of Pumped Hydro Storage, said the two projects could lead to paved roads, potable water and electricity to the area, an access tunnel to the Little Colorado River for tourism, jobs for tribal members, and billions in investments and economic impact to the Navajo Nation and Arizona.

Water, engineering, geology, environmental and cultural studies would take up to three years and cost up to $18 million, according to the company’s filings.

The proposals don’t mention the Hopi Tribe or an area the Hopi believe their ancestors emerged from called the Sipapu. Tribes also consider the place where the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers meet sacred. The neighboring Navajo and Hopi tribes have an intergovernmental compact that allows members of each tribe to access the other’s land for religious purposes, and Hopi Vice Chairman Clark Tenakhongva said he expects that to be respected.

(1) comment

Tom Ribe

Another proposal to destroy the natural environment so a few people can make money. I'm sure Don Trump will do all he can to help wreck the Little Colorado and hurt the Navajo tribe.

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