Long-term Maintenance Agreement for Yuma East Wetlands to be Celebrated

2013-08-04 17:58:00

The Yuma East Wetlands is considered a model for wetlands restoration in the desert Southwest that transformed the “forgotten land” along the Colorado River into an inviting haven for humans and wildlife.

Now the community is invited to share in a celebration of the latest milestone, a long-term management agreement to ensure that the restoration is maintained for generations to come.

The Yuma East Wetlands project has been a collaborative effort by the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, Quechan Indian Tribe, City of Yuma, Arizona Game and Fish Commission, and other state and federal stakeholders.

Through the recently approved agreement, the project now becomes part of the Lower Colorado River Multispecies Conservation Program to further maintain and enhance the natural vegetation in support of wildlife habitat and recreation for visitors for the next 50 years.

A celebration to mark the occasion will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday at the Pivot Point Conference Center, 310 N. Madison Ave. The celebration is organized by the Central Arizona Project and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Featured speakers during the event will include:

• Sandra Fabritz-Whitney, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources

• John Swett, program manager for the Multi-Species Conservation Program

• Keeny Escalanti, president of the Quechan Indian Tribe

• Charles Flynn, executive director of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area

Back in 2001, this 1,400-acre area was a jungle of non-native vegetation, hobo camps and trash dumps that cut the Yuma community off from the Colorado River.

Since then, 350 acres have been restored as workers cleared the area, planted more than 75,000 trees, plants and shrubs, and moved more than 300,000 cubic yards of dirt to create two miles of side channel and several backwater lakes.

As the wetlands grow, the bird density and diversity in the area has increased. One of the most notable species observed is the endangered Yuma Clapper Rail. The project also gave the community new access to the river for hiking, bird watching and swimming.

The challenge then became how to maintain the restoration long term, Flynn said. “You can’t just plant and walk away. You need to control weeds, replace dead trees and irrigate,” not to mention prevent a new invasion of the non-native vegetation that once choked the area.

After much discussion among the participating stakeholders, a historic agreement was recently reached that will make available 50 years of maintenance funding. The MSCP will provide 70 percent of the annual maintenance funding, while the Heritage Area, Quechan Indian Tribe and the City of Yuma will each provide 10 percent for a total annual budget of $500,000.

The Heritage Area will manage the area on behalf of all the partners. The Quechan Tribe and City of Yuma will continue to provide water for the project.

“All the Multispecial Conservation Program asks is that we maintain what was created,” Flynn said. “It’s a great deal for them – they didn’t have to bear the original cost. And it’s a great deal for us. We have 50 years of maintenance funds.”