Inaugural Poem Conjures Colorado River That Flows to the Sea

The Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam (courtesy of lawdawg1, Flickr Creative Commons)


The inauguration of President Barack Obama for his second term was viewed by millions and will be remembered in the history books.  There is a lot at stake in this presidency; there always is.  But I sat up and took notice when I heard Richard Blanco, the inaugural poet, read “One Today,” the work he wrote for the occasion:

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed

their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked

their way to the sea.

Blanco’s images are powerful – one sun, one ground, one sky uniting our multitudes.  That he chose the mighty Colorado as illustration speaks to the iconic nature of the river that tumbles from snow in the mountains and across the desert on its journey to the Sea of Cortez.

I have no idea if Blanco knows that the Colorado hasn’t completed its route to the sea – at least not on a regular basis – for decades.  Nor if he knows that a heroic team of negotiators from the United States and Mexico made commitments to right that wrong in a new Treaty agreement signed in November 2012.  The two countries, assisted by conservation organizations on both sides of the border, are going to put water back into the Colorado’s desiccated delta sometime in the next few years.

There are many reasons to hope the experiment is a success, including wildlife, communities, and jobs.  Blanco reminds us of another, that the Colorado River defines us.  I’m hopeful we can fix it.



Jennifer Pitt is the Colorado River Project Director for Environmental Defense Fund. She works with Colorado River water users throughout the Colorado River basin—including seven states in the United States and two in Mexico—to develop practical programs to restore river habitats and to dedicate water to environmental resources. She has worked as a park ranger and a Congressional aide, and has a Masters degree in Environmental Studies from Yale University.
  • Charlie Chub

    You make a very important point. I trust few who heard the poem even know where and in what sea the Colorado should terminate, much less the fact that only in extreme water years, not seen in two decades, will Colorado River water ever get down to the Gulf of Mexico.

    I do find your “heroic” characterization of the negotiators involved in Minute 319 a stretch. Not discounting that bit of water to be earmarked for the Delta, since nobody at the table was actually giving up anything–they would all benefit in terms of water or money due to the increasing value of Colorado River water–the motivation was consumption not conservation. There will never be enough money to buy the amount of conservation the Delta really needs or the rest of the Colorado for that matter. No, real “heroics” would have entailed all those at the table actually freely using less water–truly conserving–so that the Delta and river could have more.

  • Jennifer Pitt

    Charlie, thanks for a thoughtful comment. I couldn’t agree more that conservation is critical in every corner of the Colorado River basin, in every sector that uses water. Minute 319 does include a binational conservation project, and the water saved will provide much of the water for environmental flows to the delta.

    As to the heroic negotiators: my view is that these negotiations took years, started in the wake of tremendous animosity over past unilateral actions that harmed resources on the other side of the border, and were conducted between people of different cultures, economies, legal frameworks, and – not least – languages. At times it seemed any of these hurdles could stymie the deal.

    Does Minute 319 solve everything? Of course not. But it’s a significant step in the right direction. Whether or not their core purpose was to re-water the delta, I do celebrate the negotiators who persisted through years of difficult conversations, and moreover permitted 319 to include those measures that will benefit the health of the river itself.

  • Charlie Chub

    The prolonged negotiations were the bread and butter of most of those at the table. Nothing unusual as that’s their job: to protect and further their clients’/costumers’ water consuming interests. They did that well, especially the clear precedent allowing US Colorado River water users to substitute (and thus consume) through desalinization plants across the border or other means, Mexico’s 1.5 million acre feet of Colorado River water. Moreover, despite the use of the term conservation, and that some recovered water will go to the delta (good!), the conservation component has much more to do with freeing up water for sale and more human consumption, not leaving those saved gallons in the river. Better than nothing, yes. Historic given the context, possibly. Heroic, not yet.

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org)

Social Media