Pumped Hydro Storage LLC from Phoenix proposes to locate a pump storage hydropower near Little Colorado named Big Canyon Pumped Storage Project. The proposed project is shown on this map in relation to Navajo East Rim.

A federal energy commission denied a developer’s proposal to build a pumped hydro dam on the western side of the Navajo Nation.

The so-called Big Canyon Dam Project, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is history in the Thursday ruling.

“…because the proposed project would be located entirely on Navajo Nation land and the Nation has stated that it opposes issuance of the permit, we deny the
application,”‘ according to the commission’s posted comments on its eLibrary.

The decision comes from FERC’s request in February, which allowed a 30-day comment period about a proposed Pumped Hydro Storage LLC, that ended March 21, 2024.

This is the second victory for families that have tended the land for generations. The families formed a coalition called  Save of the Confluence more than a decade ago to fend off those who show up with dreams to develop the Navajo Nation portion of the majestic Grand Canyon.

The first effort involved a plan called the Grand Canyon Escalade, which would have built an aerial tramway down to the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers, with tourist centers at both the eastern canyon rim and at the base near the rivers.

The second involved the Big Canyon dam project, headed by developer Steve Irwin.

“Good news,” said Delores Wilson Aguirre. “I had concern about Mr. Steve Irwin pushing the hydropower project into our backyard. I did not think he had the money, but I believe he would have sold the Big Canyon plans to someone else. People, especially developers, need to know our culture and history to Big Canyon, which we hold sacred, like a church.”

Irwin, manager of Pumped Hydro Storage LLC. Irwin had proposed building a dam, which he named Navajo Nation Big Canyon Pumped Storage Project, near the Little Colorado River in western Navajo Nation.  STC’s member reaction relates to a decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Thursday. The commission, charged with green lighting preliminary permits for pumped hydro storage dams on tribal lands, denied a feasibility study Thursday to the Phoenix developer.

FERC based its decision on a new policy that it created and approved in February. The commission “will not issue preliminary permits for projects proposing to use Tribal lands if the Tribe on whose lands the project is to be located opposes the permit…,” according to Debbie-Anne A Reese, the commission’s acting secretary.

Irwin could not be reached for a comment.

Aguirre said STC, with the help of Grand Canyon Trust, kept a sharp eye on Irwin’s hydropower proposal since March 2020, when the developer filed an application for a feasibility study with FERC.

The group, which organized it in about 2009 and successfully battled the proposed Grand Canyon Escalade, was surprised to hear about the dam proposal.

The  developer initially listed three potential sites for dam development on or near the Little Colorado River in the Bodaway/Gap Chapter. Irwin later dropped two sites and focused his energy on Big Canyon.

The pandemic came along and a lull followed but the commission, according to Reese, issued a call for comments on June 9, 2020, on Irwin’s notice of a permit application. About 25 comments, interventions to protests were made from groups such as American Rivers, American Whitewater, Sierra Club to tribal nations such as the Hopi Tribe to the Navajo Nation, which filed a notice of intervention and comments.

In its first intervention, the Navajo Nation stated Irwin’s project would “have an adverse impact on the Nation’s land use, waters rights to the Little Colorado River, fish and wildlife and cultural resources.”

FERC reopened comments for Big Canyon stakeholders after creating its new policy Feb. 20, 2024. By March 21, about 30 comments were logged with FERC.

The commission on Thursday recognized comments by the Coppermine Chapter, a neighboring Bodaway/Gap’s chapter.  The Navajo Nation also filed repeating its concerns from 2020.

They all opposed the proposed Big Canyon Navajo Nation Big Canyon Pumped Storage Project except Irwin.

STC families also wrote a letter to the commission and raised the potential of a drought in the southwest if the project were to move forward. The group also sent in its petition that had more than 80,000 signatures that opposed the dam.

“This is great news,” said Nelda Huskie, STC member. “Awesome work by all who submitted comments.”


FERC Rejects Steve Irwin’s Big Canyon Dam Project: A Victory for Conservation

Save the Confluence, a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving the natural beauty of the Western Navajo Nation, celebrated a significant victory this week. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has officially denied the feasibility study for the proposed Big Canyon Pumped Storage Project, a controversial hydroelectric dam near the Lower Little Colorado River.

The Battle for Big Canyon

The proposed Big Canyon Dam, spearheaded by Steve Irwin, owner of Pumped Hydro Storage LLC, aimed to harness the power of the river to generate electricity. However, this ambitious project faced fierce opposition from local communities, environmentalists, and indigenous groups.

The Concerns

  1. Environmental Impact: The dam would have disrupted the delicate ecosystem of the Little Colorado River, threatening native fish species and disrupting the natural flow of water.
  2. Cultural Significance: The area around Big Canyon holds immense cultural and spiritual importance for the Navajo Nation. The dam would have irreversibly altered this sacred landscape.
  3. Water Rights: Concerns were raised about water rights and the potential impact on downstream communities.

FERC’s Decision

In a groundbreaking move, FERC rejected the feasibility study for the Big Canyon Dam. This decision was influenced by several factors:

  1. Tribal Consent Policy: FERC recently established a new policy requiring developers to obtain permission from tribal nations before conducting feasibility studies for hydroelectric projects on tribal land. This policy aims to respect indigenous sovereignty and protect culturally significant areas.
  2. Previous Rejections: The commission had already turned down several other pumped hydro dam projects on the Navajo Nation, including the controversial Black Mesa proposal.
  3. Public Outcry: Over 87,000 signatures were collected in a petition opposing the Big Canyon Dam project, demonstrating widespread public concern.

Steve Irwin’s Response

Despite the setback, Steve Irwin remains adamant. He applied for a preliminary permit back in 2020 and argues that his application predates the new tribal consent policy. However, the FERC’s decision stands firm.

A Win for Conservation

The denial of the Big Canyon Dam project is a victory for conservationists, indigenous communities, and all those who cherish the natural beauty of the Western Navajo Nation. Save the Confluence families, along with concerned citizens, can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that Big Canyon will remain untouched by concrete and turbines.

As the sun sets over the rugged cliffs and winding river, the fight for environmental justice continues. And for now, Big Canyon stands as a testament to the power of collective action in defense of our planet.


  1. Families impacted by proposed Big Canyon Dam write a letter to Feds
  2. Petition of 87,000 signatures opposing Big Canyon dam project sent to developer
  3. In new filing, Navajo Nation adds more opposition to Big Canyon Dam project
  4. Feds wants comments about Big Canyon Storage Project


Download a PDF of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission full decision.