Wildlife & Wild Places

Locals Help Restore the Colorado Delta

This post is part of a series on the Colorado River Delta.

The Colorado River Delta once boasted a million acres of lush cattail marshes and riverside forests of cottonwoods and willows.  But today, due to dams and diversions upstream, the river rarely flows through its delta anymore, and only ten percent of that verdant landscape remains.Colorado River delta series

But now, with the recent signing of a bi-national agreement to give some flow back to the delta, along with two decades of hard work by scientists, conservation organizations, and local communities, the groundwork has been laid for a comeback.

Invasive salt cedar is being removed and native cottonwoods and willows planted in their place.  A treatment plant for Mexicali’s wastewater now includes an adjacent 250-acre wetland that further treats the water and provides crucial habitat for birds and wildlife.  Irrigation improvements are conserving water. And local farmers are voluntarily selling their water rights to the recently created Colorado River Delta Water Trust, which then returns that water to the delta environment.

The surprising formation some thirty years ago of La Ciénega de Santa Clara– the “accidental wetland” – from the release of farm drainage into the dry delta revealed a startling fact: just add water and life returns.

Now, the delta is poised for a bigger revival.

To learn more, watch this video (also embedded above).  Then help restore water to the Colorado River by joining Change the Course. Sign up online or text ‘River’ to 77177.

Marsh in the Colorado River Delta
Marsh in the Colorado River Delta. Photo: Cheryl Zook, National Geographic

Special thanks to Silk and Coca-Cola, Charter Sponsors for Change the Course. Additional funding generously provided by the Walton Family Foundation.

Sandra Postel directs the independent Global Water Policy Project and lectures, writes, and consults on international water issues. She is also Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society, and serves as lead water expert for the Society's freshwater initiative. Sandra is the author of several acclaimed books, including the award-winning Last Oasis, the basis for a PBS documentary. Her essay "Troubled Waters" was selected for Best American Science and Nature Writing. Sandra is a Pew Scholar in Conservation and the Environment, and has been named one of the "Scientific American 50" for her contributions to water policy.

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