Non-profit Organizations and the Navajo Nation Oppose Pumped Water Storage Projects

Three non-profit organizations filed a motion to stop the development of large Arizona pumped storage projects in Black Mesa on the Navajo Nation. Tó Nizhóní Ání, Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed the motion to deny preliminary print applications for three pump storage projects. 

Nature and People First, owned by a French entrepreneur, filed preliminary applications to develop the Black Mesa North, East, and South Pump Storage Projects. The projects would create a closed-loop pumped storage power plant with a 2,250-megawatt capacity. The projects would be 40 linear miles long and would pump water uphill to reservoirs on Black Mesa under certain conditions. The applications cite aquifers beneath Black Mesa and the Colorado and San Juan Rivers as potential water sources. 

Eight new reservoirs on 38,000 acres, around 60 percent of Lake Powell’s surface area, are proposed. It would take 450,000 acre-feet of water to fill the reservoirs. The projects would also include a new lower reservoir with a 14,500-acre surface area and a storage capacity of 250,000 acre-feet.

“These projects rely on water and community consent that doesn’t exist,” said Taylor McKinnon at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Problems with the Black Mesa Pumped Storage Projects

Problems exist with the applications for the projects. First, there is a legal problem. Center for Biological Diversity states that the application for the project does not show the “legal rights to those sources.” The Navajo Nation filed a motion on December 30, 2022, to intervene in the application process. 

The Navajo Nation opposes the application for numerous reasons:

  • NPF did not seek the consent of the Navajo Nation, nor did it obtain the required clearances and permits for preliminary biological investigations or construction of the projects
  • The lack of information about “meaningful consultation” between NPF and the Navajo Nation. 
  • The projects could impact the use of those lands by the Navajo Nation, their water rights, their wildlife and plant resources, the fish resources of the Colorado and San Juan rivers, and their cultural resources. 

Decades of coal extraction in the area have already caused environmental harm. In 1966, the Navajo and Hopi nations sold the mineral and aquifer rights on Black Mesa to the Peabody Coal Company for $2 million a year. Coal mining depleted the aquifer and polluted the area. Around 12,000 to 16,000 Navajos were forced from Black Mesa under federal law. The mine closed in 2005.

Black Mesa is part of the Navajo and Hopi reservations. Both nations share an area within Black Mesa. Native peoples have inhabited the region for more than 7,000 years. There are around 16,000 Navajo and 8,000 Hopi people on Black Mesa. The Navajo consider Black Mesa to be a sacred mountain that is important to one of their ceremonies. 

“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, one of the three non-profit groups that filed the motion. “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.”

Image credit: My Mom is Wolves on Flickr


Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman, freelance writer/journalist/copyeditor Twitter: @gmcheeseman

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