Navajo opposition spells likely end of Arizona storage project

By Jason Plautz | 03/15/2024 06:51 AM EDT

A Federal Energy Regulatory Commission policy gives tribes more say over projects on their land.

The Lower Colorado River would be affected by the Big Canyon project.

The Lower Colorado River would be affected by the Big Canyon project. Courtesy of Lisa Winters, Grand Canyon Trust

The Navajo Nation reiterated its opposition to plans to build a massive pumped hydro energy storage project on its land, likely putting the final stake in the proposal thanks to a new federal policy prioritizing tribal input.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said last month that it would no longer approve preliminary permits for projects on land belonging to Native American tribes if the affected tribe was opposed.

Along with that policy — which was detailed in the agency’s rejections of a number of project permits at its regular open meeting last month — the commission announced a new comment period for a pumped storage project on the Lower Colorado River known as the Big Canyon project. That proposal from an Arizona-based company called Pumped Hydro Storage sought to flood hundreds of acres above the river to create reservoirs that would store and dispatch power.


In a comment filed this week, attorneys from the Navajo Nation’s natural resources and water rights offices said the proposed project would present adverse impacts to “the Navajo Nation’s water and cultural resources.” Creating the reservoirs, the attorneys wrote, could put the tribe’s water rights at stake and could threaten wildlife in the area.