Colorado River Delta Restoration Is Ken Salazar’s Keystone Water Achievement

Ken Salazar

Departing Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar shared a few thoughts at his exit ceremony about the keystone accomplishments of his four years and three months in office, and called out restoration of the Colorado River Delta as his signature achievement in water management (see our ongoing series on the delta):

“The fourth keystone I spoke to the President about [in Chicago when he asked me to join his cabinet] was working on water issues. I won’t spend a lot of time on that other than to say that on the Colorado River between the nation of Mexico and the United States we were able to put together what essentially is the most important agreement that has ever been put together between the United States and Mexico on water in the Colorado River. You will see a restoration of the Colorado River on the Mexican side of the border. You will also see water sharing arrangements and a whole host of other things. And for that I give [Commissioner of Reclamation] Mike Connor great recognition and [Assistant Secretary for Science and Water] Anne Castle because they have led that effort on behalf of the United States of America.”

The desiccation of the Colorado River Delta resulted in severe environmental damage in a border context with little in the way of proven remedies. But the United States and Mexico peered into the abyss of the dying delta, realized they didn’t like what they saw, and in the context of an agreement to improve water reliability for cities and farms on both sides of the border, took steps to start righting that wrong.

Secretary Ken Salazar, working with his dedicated and effective administration, showed tremendous leadership to achieve the agreement, known as Minute 319. The border between the United States and Mexico can seem a great divide, with differences in language, culture, economics, and law, not to mention a history of distrust and a very tall fence. The border even managed, for a time, to stop the mighty Colorado from reaching the sea.

Ken Salazar deserves our deepest gratitude for reaching across that divide, and starting the process to restore one of North America’s most iconic rivers. Thank you, y muchas gracias.



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.