Colorado River Finally Gives Parched Mexican Delta a Good Soaking

Thursday, 27 Mar 2014 08:22 AM

By Nick Sanchez

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An agreement between the U.S. and Mexico opened the gates of the Morales Dam on the Arizona-Mexico border on Sunday to give the long-parched Colorado River Delta its first good soaking in decades.

On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that officials from both countries celebrated the gush of water that will flow over the last 70-mile stretch of the river into the Sea of Cortez.

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The one-time, 105,392 acre-feet release is enough to supply water to 200,000 homes for a year, and it will rejuvenate an area that dried up decades ago but used to support a rich diversity of life.

"The pulse flow is about mimicking the way the Colorado River flowed in the springtime, thanks to snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains, before all the dams were built," Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project, told National Geographic.

Up until now, the dam only diverted water into the Mexicali Valley for crop irrigation.

The extra water will come from the Hoover Dam, which will release Lake Mead's freshest water into the river, where it will travel 320 river miles before reaching the Morales Dam. That water will be released into the delta to support local ecosystems like freshwater marshes as well as the people who reside there.

Since 1960, when the dam was erected, the region's two million acres of wetlands have shrunk to almost nothing, with vegetation reduced by 90 percent. Among other things, this devastated what was once one of the world's foremost fisheries.

The floods comes as the result of a 2012 agreement in which the two countries agreed to share both droughts and bounteous wet years. The 2012 agreement amends a 1944 treaty, and called for a restoration of the delta, among other things.

"By abandoning the old framework of 'who gets what' and establishing cooperative management of our shared resource, the U.S. and Mexico are achieving benefits for communities and nature alike," Jennifer Pitt of the Environmental Defense Fund wrote on her blog. "Never before have we deliberately sent water below the Morelos Dam . . . to benefit the environment."

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