Steve Irwin, owner of Pumped Hydro Storage, LLC, said Friday he won’t withdraw his application for a permit to dam up a parched piece of desert to collect groundwater on the western Navajo Nation for outside interests.

In this aerial view the Little Colorado flows near the area known as Big Canyon, east of the Grand Canyon National Park. (Photo courtesy of EcoFlight.)

Save the Confluence had asked the Phoenix developer to drop his request of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a preliminary permit earlier this week. In a letter to Irwin, Delores Wilson-Aguirre, STC Steering Committee chairperson, referred to a 1-year-old petition, which collected more than 87,000 signatures, as evidence of widespread opposition to the environmental project near the Little Colorado River, at Big Canyon.

Irwin is not surprised the petition collected 87,000 signatures that oppose his proposed project. The company is used to dealing with controversy, he said.

“We’ll stick with the project,” Irwin said. “It’s needed real bad…Pumped storage is really the new energy…”

Rita Bilagody, Save the Confluence spokeswoman, said discounting the voices of 87,000 people is a mistake.

“The Navajo Nation has already said they’re not in agreement with his plans,” Bilagody said. “So have the local people who will be most affected…To me personally, this is a declaration of environmental war on his part and I will oblige. I didn’t want to do this but he made up my mind. …We will protect our water, our land, our air. We have no choice. They are living, breathing entities. They look to us for help and protection.”

Irwin said Big Canyon is an ideal site because energy storage is in demand. Neighboring state California, for example, has a massive solar energy that puts out excess energy and dumps power into Arizona.

A power storage is needed and a hydro pumped plant at Big Canyon can capture and store power, he said. Irwin pointed to the nearby location of transmission lines, which cross western Navajo from Glen Canyon Dam to Phoenix. The excess power could placed into the transmission lines and directed to where energy is needed, he said.

For now, Irwin has not heard from FERC about the permit, He believes the proposal  is “frozen” because the Navajo Nation filed an injunction against the company for many reasons. One is a failure by Irwin to notify the local land users near Big Canyon.

He won’t push for the permit but will wait for investors/utility companies to understand there is a need for a pump storage at Big Canyon, he said.