U.S. Water News Online
HOOVER DAM -- Water officials from California, Arizona and
Nevada and the federal government enacted a 50-year plan to protect
lower Colorado River habitat, help native species and ensure states
can keep getting the water and power that one official called "the
lifeblood of the Southwest."
The top Bureau of Reclamation official at a ceremony at the base
of the massive Hoover Dam hailed the Lower Colorado River
Multi-Species Conservation Program as a unique example of
"cooperative conservation" supported by the Bush administration.
The $626 million program will benefit "the many important species,
including humans, that rely on the Colorado River," said John Keys,
Bureau of Reclamation commissioner.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton signed the pact, leaving final
signatures to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California
Department of Fish and Game. Norton did not attend the ceremony due
to a death in the family.
"Today's agreement represents the largest, the longest-term and
the most innovative partnership plan for habitat restoration on a
river system in the United States," said Craig Manson, assistant
Interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks. "There is simply no
comparable program in the nation."
But environmental groups were not part of the ceremony. Officials
with organizations that quit the decade-long negotiations derided the
final product as one-sided.
"It's cooperation between the water users, power producers and
federal government to provide legal and political protection from
litigation," said Michael Cohen, of the Oakland, Calif.-based Pacific
Cohen said his group pulled out because environmentalists were
outvoted and participating entities had no goal to improve habitat in
the fragile Colorado River delta in Mexico's Gulf of California.
"This plan is worse than doing nothing, because it effectively
closes the door on meaningful lower Colorado River restoration for 50
years," Cohen said.
Kim Delfino, California director of Defenders of Wildlife in
Sacramento, said her organization was studying whether the program
violated federal and state environmental laws.
"It does not provide for true conservation on the river," Delfino
said. "They had an opportunity to provide conservation and they
The agreement calls for restoring 8,132 acres of riverside, marsh
and backwater habitat for at least 26 species native to the river,
including six federally protected species: the razorback sucker,
bonytail and humpback chub fish; the Yuma clapper rail and
southwestern willow flycatcher birds; and the desert tortoise.
Jennifer Pitt, a Boulder, Colo.-based analyst for the
Environmental Defense advocacy group, said the agreement was driven
by a need to comply with the federal Endangered Species Act.
"The stakeholders who participated in the shaping of this plan
want certainty in their water deliveries," Pitt said. "I take issue
with billing it as a restoration effort when in fact we're replacing
what we're taking away, if that."
Arizona state Water Resources Director Herb Guenther, who spent
more than a decade developing the program, called it the best and
largest multi-species protection plan ever assembled.
"We decided we couldn't account for the habitats in the delta
because we didn't have the control," he said. "What we know of as the
Southwest, the cities, farms and power that goes with it, result from
harnessing this river. We can't go back to the way it used to be."
Norton joined officials signing a memorandum of understanding in
September that led to the final agreement.
It involved six state agencies, six Indian tribes, 36 cities and
water and power authorities, and six federal agencies that bureau
officials said provide water and power to more than 20 million
residents in the three states, plus irrigation for 2 million acres of
With one act, it aims to protect threatened and endangered species
along 400 miles of river from Lake Mead to the U.S.-Mexico border,
while ensuring uninterrupted water and power operations using
Colorado River water.
It calls for the federal government and local agencies to put up
$313 million of the cost, and for the program to be overseen by a
Bureau of Reclamation steering committee that will meet annually.
California will pay about $155 million, with Arizona and Nevada
paying roughly $77.5 million each, officials said.
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