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5:29 AM Fri, Jan. 18th

Colorado River chain in good shape

The Colorado River chain is in remarkably good shape from an environmental standpoint, considering how many people and business interests depend on it and, potentially, could abuse it.

The United States Department of Interior's Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) has most of the responsibility for protecting the chain's roughly 1,450 miles of waterways, said Colleen Dwyer, public affairs specialist.

Dwyer said the Colorado River chain flows through Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California.

A BOR office in Las Vegas administers for the lower Colorado River Basin extending south and west from Lee's Ferry, which is about 15 miles below Glen Canyon Dam.

Another BOR office in Salt Lake City oversees the upper Colorado River Basin north and east from Lee's Ferry, Dwyer said.

"In Lake Mead, there has been some talk of return flows from the Las Vegas Valley that may have some potential perchlorate contamination," she said.

"Industrial plants have been in the valley since the 1940s.

"We're finding some of this running into a reservoir fairly close to the intake system to the Las Vegas Valley.

While there is no major cleanup at present, we are working with the Clark County and Las Vegas Valley water districts and other water suppliers to understand where the contamination comes from and enhance wetlands where most runoff goes through, which in turn cleans the water."

Reported low water levels at Lake Mead are not a problem as the man-made lake was created to store water in times of plenty and release it through Hoover Dam in times of drought, Dwyer said.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers has some peripheral regulatory responsibilities for Colorado River wetlands and tributaries, according to Marjorie Blaine, senior project manager and biologist in the Tucson office.

"We regulate all ephemeral washes in counties that only flow in response to rain, so they're dry most of the time," Blaine said.

"People build roads across them or build houses and erect utility lines beside them.

They sometimes want to divert them off their property and that concerns us."

There is a good deal of residential development off the Colorado River in Bullhead City, Blaine said.

In addition, county flood control and residential and rechannelization of water projects is ongoing in Kingman.

"One important thing people don't realize is that dry washes have functions like sediment transport in addition to water flow," Blaine said.

"If they alter them, they can change the stream bed in negative ways both downstream and upstream."

An individual may hold title to a piece of property.

But federal law applies to all private, public, tribal and state lands, giving the Army Corps of Engineers jurisdiction over any altering of the land, she said.

There is some shoreline erosion below Davis Dam and that is mainly caused by boat wash and jet skiers, Blaine said.

But one other cause is people removing rocks from armored bank lines.

Dwyer said the BOR is doing research into wastewater reuse and recycling in Southern California through a grant program for facilities to develop water resources.

"Depending on the level of purification, the recycled water would be used on golf courses and along roadsides," she said.

In addition to water conservation efforts, the BOR is working to help endangered species such as the razorback sucker in Lake Mohave and the willow flycatcher along the Colorado River south of Lake Havasu, Dwyer said.

Those efforts entail enhancement programs.

"We began working with razorback suckers in the early 1990s," she said.

"We raise small fish in protected ponds until they're large enough to fight off predatory game fish and then place them in Lake Mohave where they can flourish in a fairly protected environment.

"The willow flycatcher used to flourish in cottonwood and willow habitats.

A lot of those trees have disappeared, not only from river operations but where steamboats came up the river and cut them for firewood.

We plant areas with cottonwood to encourage the birds to nest and settle here, although they are a migratory species."