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Environmental Groups File Motion To Stop Dam Project In Little Colorado River Gorge

Ryan Heinsius

A coalition of environmental groups Monday plan to file a motion to stop a hydropower and dam proposal in the Little Colorado River Gorge. They say it represents a grave threat to the environment, endangered species and tribal sacred sites. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

The environmental legal group Earthjustice is urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reject a preliminary permit application filed for the Big Canyon project. It would include four dams and four reservoirs adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park on the Navajo Nation. It’s the third such proposal in the area from the Phoenix-based Pumped Hydro Storage, and would tap a local aquifer instead of damming the Little Colorado River.

"Pumping groundwater is still going to harm the endangered humpback chub, still going to harm the most important, critical habitat for that endangered fish," says Earthjustice staff attorney Michael Hiatt. "This location is just unsuitable and inappropriate for hydropower development."

Tribes including the Hopi and Havasupai say the proposals would destroy numerous sacred sites. The U.S. Interior and Arizona Game and Fish departments have also raised serious concerns.

Pumped Hydro Storage’s newest proposal follows a wave of public opposition to its earlier projects, which were granted preliminary permits in May. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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