Hydroelectric power has been important to parts of the United States for many years. But it’s difficult to build new dams now because they often are controversial for environmental reasons and they already have been built at many of the best sites. A new proposal from a Phoenix company to put two new dams near the Grand Canyon certainly is controversial, and for good reason.
Pumped Hydro Storage LLC has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to start a dam project on the Little Colorado River. Two dams would be on the Navajo Nation near the eastern border of the Grand Canyon.
The project would run water between the dams only 4 miles above the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado rivers and through that, generate electricity. Both dams would form reservoirs, one of them 2 miles long. The water tied up by the project would total 13,000 acre-feet.
The company was formed this year and obviously has an arrangement with the Navajo Nation. Meanwhile, a sacred site of the Hopi Tribe, which often has been in conflict with the Navajos, is nearby.
Dams have been proposed unsuccessfully in that area in the past. One of the objections was trapping of sediment that would affect beaches and fish habitat downstream. Another objection is industrialization of a significant remote area.
An argument in favor of the project is that it would offer jobs when many are being lost because of the shutdown of the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station and a related coal mine. Hydropower may have environmental drawbacks, but it does not affect air quality.
The United States and world are switching more and more to use of renewable energy. While that is very important, most of it has some negative aspect, including that it blocks views and in the case of wind power, birds are affected. Some of those effects will have to be accepted, but building new dams in sensitive areas requires careful scrutiny.