updated 4/5/2005 10:10:28 AM ET 2005-04-05T14:10:28

Water officials from California, Arizona and Nevada joined the federal government Monday in enacting a 50-year plan to protect the lower Colorado River and ensure states are able to get enough water and power from it.

The $626 million agreement will benefit “the many important species, including humans, that rely on the Colorado River,” said John Keys, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, during a ceremony at the base of the massive Hoover Dam.

The program, called the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program, aims to protect threatened and endangered species along 400 miles of river from Lake Mead to the U.S.-Mexico border, while ensuring an uninterrupted supply of water and power.

The agreement calls for restoring 8,132 acres of riverside, marsh and backwater habitat for at least 26 species native to the river, including six federally protected species: the razorback sucker, bonytail and humpback chub fish; the Yuma clapper rail and southwestern willow flycatcher birds; and the desert tortoise.

“Today’s agreement represents the largest, the longest-term and the most innovative partnership plan for habitat restoration on a river system in the United States,” said Craig Manson, assistant Interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.

Though touted as an example of “cooperative conservation” supported by the Bush administration, the pact was derided by environmental groups, some of which dropped out of the decade-long negotiations.

“It’s cooperation between the water users, power producers and federal government to provide legal and political protection from litigation,” said Michael Cohen, of the Oakland, Calif.-based Pacific Institute.

Cohen said his group pulled out because environmentalists were outvoted and participating groups had no goal to improve habitat in the fragile Colorado River delta in Mexico’s Gulf of California.

“This plan is worse than doing nothing because it effectively closes the door on meaningful lower Colorado River restoration for 50 years,” Cohen said.

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