Interior Dept. Submits Comments Opposing Little Colorado River Dams

Feb 3, 2020

The U.S. Interior Department in November filed a series of comments critical of two hydro-storage dam proposals on the Little Colorado River. One of the main concerns is the possibly detrimental impact to the endangered humpback chub. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

The confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado rivers near the proposed locations of two hydro-storage projects that would construct four dams and four reservoirs.
Credit Ryan Heinsius / KNAU

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the proposals, which include four dams and four reservoirs, would destroy more than two-thirds of the humpback chub’s spawning and rearing habitat in the Little Colorado.

"If you’re going to look at and design a project that would effectively eliminate humpback chub from the Little Colorado River, it would be hard for me to think of a better project to design if that were my objective … It seems that as goes the Little Colorado River, so goes humpback chub," says Kirk Young with Fish and Wildlife's Arizona Conservation Office.

Fish and Wildlife recently proposed down-listing the humpback chub from endangered to threatened, as recovery efforts have helped the fish’s population grow substantially in the last two decades. Young says if the dam projects were to be approved those gains would be lost.

In addition to the chub, Interior officials are also concerned about several other fish species, water flows, and impacts on Native American cultural and spiritual sites.

The preliminary permit applications for the project are currently being considered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The Phoenix-based company Pumped Hydro Storage declined to comment on the Interior Department's remarks about the project.