Colorado River To Flow South Of The Border

March 17, 2014
Government officials will release the Colorado River from Morelos Dam into the delta to better inform decision makers how to manage the river.

On March 23, the last dam on the Colorado River will release water into the dry delta in Mexico. This will be the first time in many years the delta has experienced a spring runoff.

The Colorado River hasn’t crossed the border into Mexico consistently for half a century. This experiment will release less than 1 percent of the river into the delta for two months. It’s part of the binational agreement called Minute 319. The countries are trying to figure out how to share in the surpluses and the shortages of the river. The Environmental Defense Fund’s Jennifer Pitt has been working on this policy for 15 years.

“The fact that it is a flow that is being delivered intentionally by the United States n and Mexico working together and collaboratively is groundbreaking and unique in the history of the Colorado River really,” Pitt said.

In the first few weeks of the “pulse flow,” as it’s called, Pitt expects a green up, lots of new vegetation and habitat for the 380 bird species identified in the delta. Scientists will gather data at several monitoring sites and restoration projects below Morelos Dam, evaluate it and share it with researchers and government agencies.

“What we have the most uncertainty about is whether any of the water will actually make it down to the upper Gulf of California,” Pitt said. “And there’s certainly going to be a lot of eyes on that. We just don’t know."

That’s 70 miles the water would need to go to get to the gulf. The pilot project will inform the next agreement. Mexico and the U.S. plan to sit down together again in 2017 to decide how to best manage the Colorado River. The Sonoran Institute’s Francisco Zamora said this is only the beginning.

“For me Minute 319 is the beginning,” Zamora said. “We are learning. There is a lot of hope. At least I have a lot of hope that nature is good to us.”

Zamora said he hopes Mexico and the U.S. can reach an agreement that’s good for the environment and the people of the Colorado River Delta.