If you add water they will come
In the world of river conservation in the arid Colorado River Basin, victories for rivers are too often few and far between and rarely result in actual wet water in the river.
If there was ever a place that illustrates the challenges that the Colorado River faces- it is the Delta. What was once a thriving, productive and ecologically diverse Eden has been transformed into a dry, cracked earth, apocalyptic landscape…until now. On March 23rd water managers began releasing 105,000 acre/feet of water from Morelos Dam on the Arizona Mexico border to begin to begin restoring the Delta. An acre foot of water is pretty self-explanatory; one acre of surface area covered to a depth of one foot.
The restoration of the Delta is the result of Minute 319, an agreement between the United States and Mexico. Several people and organizations have been involved in making this landmark agreement a reality for a long time.
Conservation organizations, water providers, federal agencies in both the United States and Mexico, worked tirelessly for years to return the Colorado River to the Delta. The effort took well over a decade of hard work, outreach, and negotiations. Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River Program Director for the Environmental Defense Fund, a true champion for this effort, wrote a paper 15 years ago about restoring the delta.
In the years and months leading up to the flow release, much of the attention has been on the benefit for the environment; the restoration of cottonwood trees and other native riverside species and the return of the birds. What was somewhat unpredicted was the immediate effect it would have on people. For the first time in decades, long forgotten desert communities in the US and Mexico got their river back. I heard inspiring stories of families driving to the dry riverbed to wait with lawn chairs, water wings, and fishing rods for the river to return. When the river arrived children and adults alike got to swim in the river for the first time in their lives. Is there anything better?
I hope that the collaborative agreement to restore the Colorado River Delta is a sign of things to come in the Colorado Basin. If the US, Mexico, conservation interests and water providers can agree to put actual water into a dry river then the sky is the limit for the Colorado River.
American Rivers is eager to continue this work around replicate the successful processes to return the Colorado River to the sea. Efforts like this show what can be accomplished when stakeholders come together on behalf of the Colorado. The future of the river ultimately depends on our ability to replicate this success in communities around the Colorado River Basin.