Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 3, 2023


Nicole Horseherder, Tó Nizhóní Ání, (928) 675-1851,
Robyn Jackson, Diné C.A.R.E., (505) 862-4433,
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2414,

U.S. Urged to Deny Huge Arizona Pump Storage Projects Targeting Black Mesa

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— Tó Nizhóní Ání, Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment and the Center for Biological Diversity have filed motions urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to deny preliminary permit applications for three pump storage projects southeast of Kayenta on the Navajo Nation.

“These wildly unrealistic projects would only add to decades of harm from coal mining to Black Mesa’s people, land and aquifers,” said Nicole Horseherder, executive director of Tó Nizhóní Ání. “Asking for federal approvals before the consent of Black Mesa’s communities is the height of arrogance. It tells us all we need to know.”

The footprints and water requirements of the Black Mesa North, East and South Pump Storage Projects would worsen problems caused by decades of coal extraction. The motions, filed Friday, say the projects would destroy more land, displace more people and land uses, further deplete rivers and aquifers, and destroy pre-historic sites and habitat for endangered species like the Mexican spotted owl. The applicants are seeking approvals from federal officials without first obtaining consent from impacted communities.

“Like coal mining before, these proposals would require rural communities to sacrifice more land and water so that electricity and profits can be exported to far-away cities,” said Robyn Jackson, interim executive director of Diné C.A.R.E. “This isn’t something we want or need and it’s not a history we’ll tolerate repeating.”

Spanning 40 linear miles on Black Mesa’s northeastern escarpment, the projects would pump water uphill to reservoirs atop Black Mesa when electricity prices are low to generate electricity and revenue from return flows to reservoirs below the mesa when prices are higher. The applications list as potential water sources the aquifers beneath Black Mesa and the Colorado and San Juan rivers. The applications lack evidence showing the availability of or legal rights to those sources.

The projects propose eight new reservoirs across 38,000 acres, which is about 60% of Lake Powell’s current surface area. Filling them would require 450,000 acre-feet of water, an enormous share of the remaining Colorado River flows. Even under the rosiest scenario, estimated annual evaporative loss would be up to 8,000 acre-feet annually, which is nearly double the rate of aquifer depletion from historical coal extraction.

“These projects rely on water and community consent that don’t exist,” said Taylor McKinnon at the Center for Biological Diversity. “FERC needs to stop approving preliminary permits for speculative pump storage boondoggles, starting now. It’s wrong for commissioners to ignore the obvious infeasibility of these proposals and their potential harm to Black Mesa’s people and aquifers and the region’s endangered species.”

Decades of coal mining has already depleted Black Mesa aquifers and their connected seeps and springs. The Colorado and San Juan rivers are over-allocated, and their use is being curtailed as climate change and drought further deplete flows. The aquifers and rivers provide water for people and endangered species like Navajo sedge and Colorado pikeminnows.

More than 5,000 people so far have written to FERC urging it to reject the preliminary permit applications.

Energy speculators have proposed several pump storage projects in Arizona in recent years, including three projects along the Little Colorado River near its confluence with the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, and one project on the San Francisco River near Arizona’s border with New Mexico. Infeasibility and Tribal and public opposition have caused all but one of those to be canceled or withdrawn.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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