Wildlife & Wild Places

A Colorado Delta Community Reconnects with its River

Two days after the initial release of water at Morelos Dam, Michelle Selinas expresses sheer delight at the return of the Colorado River. Photo by Cheryl Zook / National Geographic

On Tuesday afternoon, March 25, 2014, word got out that the river was coming.

Kids, parents, dogs and teenagers began gathering at the bridge in San Luis Rio Colorado, a border town of about 160,000 people. Young people had never seen the river that gives this town its name flow beneath the bridge.

They waited.  They chatted.  A certain buzz filled the air.

About 55 hours earlier, on Sunday morning, the gates had lifted at Morelos Dam to begin the historic pulse flow, which was now making its way through the delta toward the sea.

Around 3pm, the river came into view.  Slowly, the sands of the channel became moist, then wet, and then the river, seeking its path of least resistance, advanced toward the bridge.

Suddenly the river channel was alive.  Kids jumped and swam.  Dogs waded in.  Kites flew in the air.  Families set up chairs and coolers for picnicking.

The Colorado River was back.

While it was amazing to see the river re-connect with its channel, in some ways it was even more amazing to see the community re-connect with its river.

 

For the first time in over a decade, Celia Vizcarra and Luisa Vizcarra are able to take an afternoon stroll along the river.  Photo by Cheryl Zook / National Geographic
For the first time in over a decade, Celia Vizcarra and Luisa Vizcarra are able to take an afternoon stroll along the river. Photo by Cheryl Zook / National Geographic

 

As the river approaches the bridge near San Luis Rio Colorado, islands of sand give way to the advancing water.  Photo by Cheryl Zook / National Geographic
As the river approaches the bridge near San Luis Rio Colorado, islands of sand give way to the advancing water. Photo by Cheryl Zook / National Geographic

 

Isabella Cedillo Castro races time as she builds a sand castle at the leading edge of the rising river. Photo by Cheryl Zook / National Geographic
Isabella Cedillo Castro races time as she builds a sand castle at the leading edge of the rising river. Photo by Cheryl Zook / National Geographic
Community members came out to celebrate and play in the river channel that for many years was only dry sand/ Photo by Cheryl Zook / National Geographic
Community members came out to celebrate and play in the river channel that for many years was only dry sand. Photo by Cheryl Zook / National Geographic

 

If you’re not yet part of Change the Course, please join us.  Check out our website or text “River” to 77177.

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

Sandra Postel is director of the Global Water Policy Project, Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society, and author of several books and numerous articles on global water issues.  She is co-creator of Change the Course, the national freshwater conservation and restoration campaign being piloted in the Colorado River Basin.

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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