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If you build it, they will come. . .including a garter snake not seen in the U.S. in more than a century.

Aerial View of the Colorado River

This “Field of Dreams” is known as the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program (MSCP), covering about 1,119 square miles in Arizona, California and Nevada. Started in 2005, this 50-year program is beginning to reap some true benefits thanks to new and augmented habitats in the Lower Colorado River Basin aimed at protecting 27 species covered by the program, including eight listed under the Endangered Species Act.

“Truthfully, it’s one of the coolest things we get to do,” says Chuck Cullom, CAP Colorado River Programs manager. “The program, operated in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and water users in Arizona, California, and Nevada, is creating opportunities for these species to persist and survive.”

The MSCP goal is to balance the Lower Basin use of Colorado River water resources with conservation of native species and their habitat. This includes:

  • Planting 8,132 acres of Cottonwood Willows and Honey Mesquites, along with marsh and backwaters within the historic 100-year floodplain of the Lower Colorado River
  • Stocking 1.2 million fish – Razorback Suckers and Bonytail Chub

Nearly 15 years into the program, 6,049 acres of conservation habitat have been created and 320,000 Razorback Suckers and 100,000 Bonytail Chubs have been introduced into the system. The program operates through funding provided by the United States and from water and hydropower users in California, Arizona, and Nevada. The annual budget is about $36 million, of which Arizona, primarily from Central Arizona Project, provides about $4.5 million or 12.5% of the budget.

Most importantly, the program is working.

Earlier this year, the Northern Mexican Garter Snake, not seen in the U.S. since 1904, reappeared in the MSCP habitat. The Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, a classic “snowbird,” (migrates from central and south America to the Lower Colorado River region) has been spotted spending winters nesting in the area. And, the MSCP is gearing up for more success stories when Planet Ranch, near Lake Havasu City’s Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge, is completed next year.

MSCP efforts not only create a more diverse ecosystem, they also have practical applications in terms of flood protection and reduced turbidity (murkiness) in the water that ultimately flows through CAP’s pumping plants. By protecting our watersheds, we’re also protecting our infrastructure.

And that’s truly a win-win for everyone in this “Field of Dreams” – birds, reptiles and fish included!

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