A federal agency put a Phoenix developer on notice: Update information about two proposed dams by Friday on Navajoland. Otherwise, permits will be cancelled.
The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversee pumped hydro projects, identified Salt Trail Canyon Pumped Storage Project and Little Colorado River Pumped Storage Project in western Navajo Nation. FERC issued permits to Pumped Hydro Storage LLC in October 2019.
FERC officials said by e-mail Wednesday Pumped Hydro Storage is required to report studies annually, said Celeste Miller, a FERC spokeswoman.
The commission e-mailed Steve Irwin, who owns Pumped Hydro Storage, requesting an update on June 23, 2021. The commission, Irwin said, wants to know, for example, if he has found money to build the pumped hydro projects, conducted studies and if he is in negotiation with stakeholders.
Irwin, who does not have funds identified to pay for the dams nor information the commission wants, dismissed the request. He replied through e-mail his company has up to three years to comply.
Meanwhile he is eying a third dam called Big Canyon, which Irwin applied for a permit of FERC in 2020. His proposed plans show using groundwater to build a pumped hydro dam.
“Once we get the green light on Big Canyon, we’re cancelling these two dams (permits),” Irwin said Monday. “This is the biggest option out here, the best property for this on Navajo. You’ve got power lines, a lot of infrastructure.”
Big Canyon is located east of Salt Trail and the Little Colorado River. It is a drought-stricken area where even local livestock owners have trouble finding water for diminishing herds of cattle and sheep.
She added the commission has not acted on Big Canyon permit.
“The commission will act on this permit application when it is ready to do so,” Miller said.
The Navajo Nation, however, intervened against Irwin in 2020 about Big Canyon. The nation said Irwin and FERC ignored the official tribal process for development.
The intervention states the request for feasibility studies issued to Irwin hurts the tribe. Not only will the Nation’s interest be affected by the dam project, but the tribe was also not consulted, according to the intervention.
Irwin said he was restrained from the project site.
Delores Wilson-Aguirre, a Save the Confluence member, asks that FERC deny Irwin the Big Canyon permit.
Not only do we have Navajo Nation laws, but we also have local laws, she said.
“There was no approval from the land users and grazing permit holders,” Aguirre said. “He (Irwin) needs to respect (the Navajo Nation intervention). He was officially told to stay away. He is disrespectful of local laws.”.
A group of land users near Big Canyon also signed an affidavit opposing “any kind of commercial or industrial development inside the gorge of the Little Colorado River from where it joins with the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon (the Confluence) to where the Lower Colorado River Gorge ends near Cameron,” according to the document.
The affidavit was sent to Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez to show how FERC and Irwin need to understand, recognize tribal sovereignty. Land users with grazing permits also have a big say about projects in the area, according to tribal laws.
The affidavit stated a Big Canyon permit will “impact our basic livelihood, our water and our land use, our livestock, our homes, our Navajo Traditional Sacred Religious Sites, our traditional medicinal sites…”
Aguirre, who led the fight against the failed Grand Canyon Escalade, remarked why off-reservation developers believe it is okay to identify tribal lands on a map and develop ideas. She does not trust them because developers could potentially sell off ideas to other parties.
Irwin, however, has bigger dreams. He said he may drop ideas for private funding and approach the federal government with a Big Canyon proposal the likes of Glen Canyon Dam, which was built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from 1956 to 1966.