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Big Canyon Dams Denied in Grand Canyon (AZ)

Posted: 05/03/2024
By: Kestrel Kunz

On April 25, 2024, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denied the preliminary permit application for a large pumped storage hydropower project on Big Canyon after the same developer tried and failed to build a large pumped hydro project directly on the Little Colorado River. Big Canyon is a tributary of the Little Colorado River just miles from the heart of the Grand Canyon; the project would have relied on dwindling groundwater supplies to fill a large reservoir. The Little Colorado River, from its confluence with the Grand Canyon to its own canyons and tributaries upstream, has been the center of a series of proposed development projects that threaten the sensitive and culturally significant watershed. FERC’s notice not only denies Pumped Hydro Storage’s permit application and essentially kills the project, it properly applies FERC’s new policy to require Tribal support for hydropower projects proposed on Tribal land. 

The Big Canyon Pumped Hydro Storage project would have been entirely on Navajo Nation land and in an area culturally significant to numerous other Tribes that call the greater Grand Canyon area home. The Navajo Nation originally intervened in the preliminary permit application process, as did American Whitewater, to oppose the project. FERC announced their new policy for projects on Tribal lands in February, initiating a new comment period for the Big Canyon project. The Navajo Nation spoke out against the project again, referencing their own codified laws that protect the natural world: 

[Diné Natural Law, as codified law of the Navajo Nation, states animals, plant life, and other relatives of the natural world “have their own laws and have rights and freedoms to exist” and “[t]he Diné have a sacred obligation and duty to respect, preserve and protect all that was provided for we were designated as the steward for these relatives.” 1 N.N.C. § 205(C)(D).]

The official denial of the project was 4 years in the making. American Whitewater applauds this decision and supports FERC’s new policy to prioritize Tribal sovereignty in the preliminary permit process. We have opposed the Big Canyon and Little Colorado River dams every step of the way and will continue our work to ensure that threats to the greater Grand Canyon area are halted. The Little Colorado River watershed and its confluence in the center of the Grand Canyon hold a storied history for river runners and people across the world, and will always be worth protecting. 


Kestrel Kunz

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