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Say no to the Little Colorado River dams

Posted: 10/07/2019
By: Hattie Johnson

Other worldly turquoise waters falling over travertine ledges have made the Little Colorado River an icon within an already iconic American landscape. This major tributary of the mainstem Colorado enjoys high flow events from snowmelt and rainstorms that turn that blue into a roiling red. Outside of two dams high up in the watershed, the Little Colorado is otherwise unimpeded with a mostly natural hydrograph, rare for many rivers in the southwest. This beautiful place is now threatened by two proposed hydropower projects just outside of the border of Grand Canyon National Park that would alter flows, fish, water quality, and mar the Little Colorado for generations.

A trip down the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River is on the bucket list of every river runner in the US and for many around the world. If you've had the pleasure of running the canyon, you're likely counting the days until you get to return. A stop at the Little Colorado is one that tops the list of must-do hikes for those on a Grand Canyon trip. The Little Colorado River is typically enjoyed by paddlers hiking up from the confluence, but it also provides unique Class III-IV whitewater for approximately 55 miles from Cameron, Arizona to the confluence. The lower canyon recently avoided the development of the Grand Canyon Escalade thanks to the public outcry and Navajo Nation Council's rejection of its construction. Now, the Little Colorado River's environmental, cultural, scenic, and sacred qualities are at stake once again.

A Phoenix-based hydroelectric company has submitted applications to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for preliminary permits for two pumped hydropower projects each with two dams in the Little Colorado basin. The result would include a total of four dams up to 240 feet high, two of which are on the Little Colorado River itself, as well as four reservoirs inundating 4.5 miles of the Little Colorado River adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park. The permit lacks in detail beyond basic dimensions and locations of the dams, reservoirs, powerhouses, penstocks, and the other infrastructure that would be required to develop hydropower in this remote canyon. The permits were filed on September 23, 2019 and are currently open for a 60-day public comment period.

If you've walked the Little Colorado's banks, swam in its warm water, or hiked your boat up to run the travertine drops and boulder gardens, each attack on this incredible place seems unbelievable. Projects like this may seem untenable, but remind us that special places aren't viewed the same by everyone and we must stay diligent to protect them. American Whitewater is formally intervening in these projects and will actively oppose them, as we have successfully done on numerous other high-impact proposed dams in recent years. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has asked for public comments on proposed hydropower projects, and that's where you come in. Respectful comments to FERC opposing the projects, and stating specific concerns relating to recreation, aesthetic, fisheries, instream flows, water quality, or other impacts would be most helpful.

Take Direct Action! Deadline is November 22, 2019

1.) Go to FERC's eComment page, [], enter and submit your contact information and you'll get an email with a link to the comment form.

2.) Enter the Docket Number for the first project: p-14992 and click search, then click the plus icon to add to select the Docket. Then enter the second Docket Number p-14994, click search, and click the plus again. You should see both Dockets listed under "Selected Dockets."

3.) Write your comment. Share your connection with the Little Colorado; share the values you witness there that you are concerned about relating to two large dams being built on the river; you can ask for recreation, aesthetic, and water quality or other studies; and ask FERC to scrutinize and ultimately prevent these dams from being built.

4.) Click Send Comment! 

Review the Applications:

Application for Navajo Nation (NN) Salt Trail Canyon (STC) Pumped Storage Project (PSP) by Pumped Hydro Storage LLC under P-14992, submitted 5/8/2019 <>

Application for Navajo Nation (NN) Lower Colorado River (LCR) Pumped Storage Project (PSP) by Pumped Hydro Storage LLC under P-14994, submitted 5/10/2019 <>

Photo credit: Thomas O'Keefe

American Whitewater

Hattie Johnson

Phone: 970-456-8533
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