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Environmental Conditions of the Upper Colorado River Planning Area - Arizona Water Protection Fund, Instream Flow and Threatened and Endangered Species

Discussed in this section is vegetation, riparian protection through the Arizona Water Protection Fund Program, instream flow claims, threatened and endangered species, protected public lands and unique waters.

Arizona Water Protection Fund Programs

Six riparian restoration projects in the Upper Colorado River Planning Area have been funded by the Arizona Water Protection Fund Program (AWPF) through 2008.  The objective of the AWPF program is to provide funds for protection and restoration of Arizona’s rivers and streams and associated riparian habitats.  There are funded projects in three of the nine planning area basins.  Four projects have been funded in the Bill Williams Basin and one each in the Big Sandy and Lake Mohave basins.  A list of projects and types of projects funded in the Upper Colorado River Planning Area through 2008 is available here.  A description of the program, a complete listing of all projects funded, and a reference map can be found on the AWPF website

Instream Flow Claims

Seven claims for instream flow water rights have been filed in the Upper Colorado River Planning Area, listed in Table 4.0-1 and shown on Figure 4.0-10.   An instream flow right is a non-diversionary appropriation of surface water for recreation and wildlife use.  Claims were filed only in the Bill Williams and Big Sandy basins on six different watercourses. Permits or certificates were issued for claims on the Bill Williams River, Kirkland Wash and People’s Canyon Creek.

Threatened and Endangered Species

A number of listed threatened and endangered species may be present in the Upper Colorado River Planning Area.  Those listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as of 2008 are shown in Table 4.0-2.  Presence of a listed species may be a critical consideration in water resource management and supply development in a particular area.  The USFWS should be contacted for details regarding the Endangered Species Act (ESA), designated critical habitat and current listings.

Click to view Figure 4.0-10

Table 4.0-2 Threatened and Endangered Species in the Upper Colorado River Planning Area

Common Name Threatened Endangered Elevation/Habitat
Arizona cliffrose   X < 4,000 ft/ white soils of tertiary limestone lake bed deposits
Bald eagle X   Varies/large trees or cliffs near water
Bonytail chub   X <4,000 ft/warm, swift, turbid mainstem rivers of the Colorado River area
California brown pelican   X Varies/lakes and rivers
California condor   X Varies/high desert canyon lands and plateaus
Desert pupfish   X <5,000 ft/shallow springs, small streams and marshes
Desert tortoise, Mohave population X   500-5,100 ft/Mohave desertscrub north and west of the Colorado River
Gila topminnow   X <4,500 ft/small streams, springs and cienegas
Hualapai mexican vole   X 3,500-7,000 ft/grass forb habitats in ponderosa pine
Mexican spotted owl X   4,100-9,000 ft/canyons and dense forests
Razorback sucker   X <6,000 ft/riverene and lacustrine areas, not in fast water
Southwestern willow flycatcher   X <8,500 ft/cottonwood/willow and tamarisk vegetation along rivers and streams
Yuma clapper rail   X <4,500 ft/fresh water and brackish marshes
Source:  USFWS 2008, AZGF 2008

Actions related to operation of the Lower Colorado River water delivery and electrical power generation systems by both federal and non-federal entities may affect listed species and habitat or contribute to the listing of additional species in the future.  The ESA directs Federal agencies to support the conservation of listed threatened and endangered species and to make sure that their actions do not jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or result in adverse modification of critical habitat.  To comply with the requirements of the ESA, state and federal water and power interests created the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program (LCR MSCP).  The LCR MSCP is a cooperative, Habitat Conservation Program that identifies specific measures to address the needs of 26 threatened, endangered and other species that rely on habitat associated with the lower Colorado River (USDOI, 2004).  Its purposes include: 1) protection of habitat while ensuring current river water and power operations; 2) addressing the needs of listed species under the ESA; and 3) reduction of the likelihood of listing additional species along the river (USBOR, 2007a).  LCR MSCP reaches 1-3 are within the planning area and their general location is shown in Figure 4.0-11.

The LCR MSCP also addresses compliance with the “take” provisions of the ESA.4 Incidental take of a listed species, as the result of carrying out an otherwise lawful activity, is not allowed without acquiring a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.   The LCR MSCP documents the extent of the incidental take related to river operations and maintenance activities by both Federal and non-Federal entities and includes measures to avoid, minimize and mitigate the effect of the take (USDOI, 2004). 

Implementation of the LCR MSCP began in 2005.  The program area extends from the full pool elevation of Lake Mead to the Southern International Boundary with Mexico, a distance of 400 river miles and includes the historical floodplain of the Colorado River (USBOR, 2007a). The LCR MSCP is intended to serve as a coordinated and comprehensive conservation approach for a 50-year period and therefore includes measures for species not currently listed that may become listed in the future.  Implementation of the program is funded by a partnership of state, Federal and other public and private stakeholders in Arizona, California and Nevada.  The plan will create riparian, marsh and backwater habitat for six federally listed species and 20 other native species including conservation programs for razorback sucker and bonytail chub, both federally listed endangered species.

MSCP in Upper Colorado River Planning Area

Figure 4.0-11 MSCP Reaches in the Upper Colorado River Planning Area

The LCR MSCP for the Lake Mead area includes conservation measures for two plants listed by the State of Nevada, for conservation of relict leopard frog, and for conservation of a number of riparian obligate species.  In addition, razorback sucker larvae are collected from Lake Mead and raised to a size less vulnerable to predation prior to release back into the lake.  

Lake Mohave functions as a genetic refuge for razorback sucker.  Under the LCR MSCP for the Lake Mohave area, razorback sucker larvae are collected and reared prior to release back into that lake or elsewhere, including Lake Havasu.  Suitable habitat within Havasu NWR adjacent to Topock Marsh is maintained for southwestern willow flycatcher and Yuma clapper rail.  In addition, Beal Lake, just west of Topock Marsh, is managed as a refuge for native razorback sucker and bonytail chub.  There is experimental planting to create cottonwood-willow habitat suitable for southwest willow flycatcher and other riparian obligate species on lands adjacent to Beal Lake.


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