Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez on Friday told a developer who wants to build two dams on the Little Colorado River to respect the environment and listen to local land users.
Nez’s response came after Navajo officials learned a federal agency had issued a permit to a Phoenix developer to decide if one of five Arizona sites is suitable for a Pumped Storage Hydropower. Two sites, the Salt Trail Canyon and Little Colorado River, are of concern to Nez because they are on the Nation’s Bodaway/Gap Chapter in Western Navajo Nation.
”We are ever mindful that water is life and that we must respect our environment,” Nez said. “The local Navajo communities must be informed and their voices must be heard.”
Nez said that when a project or proposal if offered to the Nation it weighs the pros and cons in terms of job opportunities, economic development, water resources and environmental impact.
Nez added he has not met with or discussed the dams with Pumped Hydro Storage LLC from Phoenix.
Steve Irwin, Pumped Hydro Storage LLC manager, said plans for the dams are preliminary. The dam sites are named “Proposed Salt Trail Canyon Pumped Storage Project” and “Proposed Little Colorado River Pumped Storage Project.”
If one of the dams on the Little Colorado River is selected, he expects the company will abide by federal environmental laws. Pumped Hydro will conduct an environmental impact statement, an archaeological study and work with tribes who are in the area, he said.
The process also includes getting a construction permit, receiving the green light from tribal leaders and finding investors to finance the project, Irwin said.
The cost to build the dam in Salt Trail Canyon is an estimated $3 billion and the Little Colorado River site would be about $6 billion, he said. He projects each project will offer up to 1,500 construction jobs over five years and up to 100 at build out.
The project’s investors might be Arizona Public Service, Salt River Project and Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. Potentially, the dam’s stored power could be used to boost solar projects, he said.
He believes a final decision on a site selection could take up to five years. Construction of a dam would require up to six years.
“I see these pumped Hydro Storage project as a real possible boom for the Navajo Nation,” Irwin said. “It would be cool for the construction workers to retire from this activity after 20 to 25 years of work. All while staying on the reservation.”
This type of dam would put out power using a turbine and generator to turn energy of falling water into electricity, which can be pumped up a hill and stored for later use.
Irwin believes infrastructure is available nearby because power lines are located about 20 miles away on U.S. Highway 89, he said. The stored power can be placed on the grid for consumption.
Irwin admits he needs work bringing Navajo leaders on board to support the project. He has not met President Nez but shared the proposed idea and showed a permit from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to Navajo Nation Division of Economic Development officials in July, he said.
Irwin believes tribal economic officials liked his idea. The tribe’s economic department director did not return phone calls to Save the Confluence.
A Bodaway land user’s reaction was not exactly cordial. Earlene Reid grew up in the area and is among a group of land users, who panicked Tuesday when she heard about the construction of two dams on the Little Colorado River. She heard People chatter about the dam construction as if it would start next week.
I felt nerve pain stab me, Reid said as she described her feelings. She remembered the Escalade campaign turned into a bitter fight between people, who believed in developers and skeptical land users.
“I felt sick,” she said. “Not again. Our community barely started to heal from the divisive Escalade, which I believe ripped clan relationships, destroyed Ke’ among our relatives in our community and chapter for nearly a decade. It was not a pleasant experience because we fought with our own extended relatives.”
Not too long ago, Scottsdale’s Confluence Partner LLC proposed The Grand Canyon Escalade project to the Bodaway/Gap Chapter and the Navajo Nation. Reid remembered developers campaigned about “jobs, jobs, jobs and more jobs for our children,”who would stay on the reservation to work.
The project had sought a large tourist center on the rim above the Little Colorado River and Colorado River. It featured a tram that would take tourists to the floor of the canyon.
The Navajo Nation Council rejected the Escalade project Halloween 2017.
Reid and other land stakeholders created Save The Confluence, an activist group that battled the Escalade.