Dennis Underwood Conservation Area Dedicated in the Palo Verde Valley by BOR and MWD

By on May 1, 2019

A project is now underway to transform a 635-acre site in the Palo Verde Valley into a natural habitat of cottonwood, willow and honey mesquite trees as part of a broad program to protect threatened and endangered species that once thrived in the river’s floodplains. The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California recently dedicated the area next to the Colorado River as the Dennis Underwood Conservation Area, named after the former Reclamation commissioner and MWD general manager.

The Dennis Underwood Conservation Area honors the water industry veteran of more than 30 years, including serving as Reclamation commissioner from 1989 to 1993 and at MWD as general manager from 1999 until his passing in 2005. Underwood also served as a commissioned officer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from 1966 to 1969. He brought a unique and creative approach to the challenges of western water, and His many unique and creative approaches served as a cornerstone of water management, particularly on the Colorado River.

The former farmland is the latest addition to the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program. The program was launched in 2005 for the recovery of endangered and threatened fish and wildlife along 400 miles of the Lower Colorado. The historic federal/state partnership and 50-year program will – upon completion — create more than 8,100 acres of new natural habitat, including riparian, marsh and backwaters, to protect more than 27 fish, bird, mammal, amphibian and reptile species. Thus far, 17 conservation areas totaling more than 6,000 acres have been established along the river, from Lake Mead to the Mexican border.

“We’ve been working hard to help ensure the reliability of the Colorado River for the 40 million people across the Southwest who depend on its waters, while working to ensure the health of the river’s diverse ecosystems and wildlife,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “It’s fitting that we’re naming this valuable habitat after Dennis Underwood since he contributed so much to the Colorado River and western water over his more than 30-year career. Dennis Underwood’s legacy of partnerships and problem-solving will be remembered as the conservation area is protected in perpetuity.”

The new conservation area is expected to attract numerous species, such as the Arizona Bell’s vireo, the Colorado River cotton rat, vermilion flycatcher, western red bat and yellow-billed cuckoo.

“We are all partners in this effort,” said MWD General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger. “For the Colorado River to continue supplying water to the people, farms and economies of seven states and Mexico, we also must ensure the river continues supporting the diverse species who call it home, from the razorback sucker fish, to the desert pocket mouse. We must balance many urban, agricultural and ecological needs.”

Participants in the program consist of 51 non-federal agencies, including state and federal resource agencies, water and power users, Native American tribes, municipalities and conservation organizations as well as six federal agencies. The cost of the $626 million program is split equally between the federal government and the Lower Basin states, with California contributing half of the states’ portion and Arizona and Nevada each contributing 25 percent.