In the list of conservation success stories of 2014, the return of flow to the once-verdant Colorado Delta ranks high.
The spring pulse flow made possible by Minute 319, the groundbreaking agreement signed in late 2012 by the US and Mexico, brought the Colorado River to the Sea of Cortez for the first time in many years.
Though it returned less than 1 percent of the river’s historic flow to the delta, the surge released at Morelos Dam recharged groundwater, gave a needed drink to trees planted at critical habitat-restoration sites, and generally greened-up the river corridor.
The delta’s signs of come-back provide honest hope that the millions of birds that traverse the Pacific Flyway from Patagonia to Alaska might once again find welcome oases to feed and rest as they cross the vast Sonoran Desert.
But the hard work of the delta’s restoration continues.
Base flows, made possible through the Colorado River Delta Water Trust – a collaboration of Environmental Defense Fund, Pronatura Noroeste and the Sonoran Institute – will supply water to the vegetation that emerged during the pulse, as well as to the native cottonwoods, willows and mesquite trees planted at the restoration sites.
Scientists continue to monitor the benefits of the flow restoration – counting bird varieties and numbers, mapping areas of restored habitats, measuring underground water levels, and more. This documentation will help make the case for a renewal of the US-Mexico agreement to continue this historic restoration process.
Perhaps more than anything, the sacred reunion of river and sea symbolizes that we humans can choose to repair ecosystems that we might have once written off as gone.
Countries from as far away as Central Asia, grappling with the loss of the Aral Sea and the river flows that had sustained it, are watching this grand experiment with keen eyes for what is possible.
Change the Course — a program of National Geographic, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, and Participant Media – is working with the Colorado River Delta Water Trust to acquire the sustaining flows needed for the delta’s restoration. You can help by joining us (it’s free). Sign up online or text “River” to 77177.
Special thanks to WhiteWave Foods Company and Coca-Cola, Charter Sponsors for Change the Course, and to Disney, a Supporting Sponsor. Additional funding 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.