On February 8, The Nature Conservancy of Arizona awarded U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Hydrologist Andrew Hautzinger of Albuquerque, N.M., its “Outstanding Conservation Achievement Award” for his work to help improve the health of the Bill Williams River, which flows into the Colorado River at Parker, Ariz.
For more than a decade, Hautzinger has served as chair of the Bill Williams River Corridor Steering Committee, a group of partners that was instrumental in working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and The Nature Conservancy in changing the way water is released from a dam built on the Bill Williams River in 1969. This work is part of the Sustainable Rivers Project, a national collaboration between the Corps and the Conservancy to improve the health of rivers downstream of dams while continuing to meet the needs of people, like flood control, water supply and hydropower.
Prior to the change in the releases, the dam would, in years of drought, slowly accumulate and hold all the water that flowed into it, leaving the Bill Williams – and the downstream, native forests it sustained – completely dry. In years of severe flooding, the gates at the dam were left open for months at a time, releasing a steady, high level of water that left the habitat downstream inundated for extended periods. Both cases had devastating effects. Within a couple of decades, most of the forests that lined the Bill Williams were in steep decline.
In 2002, the Corps began releasing water from the dam that more closely mimicked the river’s natural patterns of high and low flows, a guiding principle of the Sustainable Rivers Project. Today, downstream habitat at the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge supports more than 350 species of birds and is described as the best and largest remaining native forest and plant community along the lower Colorado River and its tributaries.
“Thanks in very large part to Andrew, the Bill Williams has become one of the showcase sites for the Sustainable Rivers Project,” said Patrick Graham, director of the Conservancy’s Arizona Chapter. “The work he’s spearheaded has brought life back into the forests there, in turn attracting birders and outdoor enthusiasts that help boost the local economy.”
Graham also said the research and monitoring that has taken place at the Bill Williams has brought important scientific advances for the management of rivers and the habitat they support across the Southwest.
A video outlining the Sustainable Rivers Project work at the Bill Williams is available online at nature.org/srp. The Sustainable Rivers Project currently involves 36 federal dams on eight rivers across 12 states. Results are proving the project’s approach yields tangible improvements in habitat while preserving – or even increasing – the services provided to people by these dams.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
The Nature Conservancy in Arizona