Karen Schlatter, of Sonoran Institute, describes the scene at Morelos Dam this morning as the Colorado River pulse flow hits its peak.
The pulse flow – a temporary release of water designed to mimic the river’s natural spring floods – began on Sunday, March 23. The pulse flow is expected to peak at its highest flow rate today through March 30, and is expected to last nearly eight weeks total, bringing much needed relief to the habitats and communities in the delta region.
Water has already reached the bridge at San Louis Rio Colorado, 35 kilometers south of Morelos Dam.
Today, policymakers, water agencies, and conservation organizations from the United States and Mexico have gathered at Morelos Dam, which straddles the U.S.–Mexico border, to witness the pulse flow and to celebrate the culmination of years of negotiations to restore the Colorado River Delta.
Afterwards, Raise The River coalition members and journalists will take a tour of the Laguna Grande Restoration Area.
Sonoran Institute and Pronatura Noroeste began restoration in the site in 2006, and to date have restored over 150 acres of riparian habitat. The restoration area is now the largest and most dense stand of native riparian habitat along the river in Mexico. The Sonoran Institute and Pronatura’s on-the-ground restoration projects in Laguna Grande have demonstrated the feasibility and success of restoration in the region.
Never before have we deliberately sent water below the Morelos Dam … to benefit the environment, … 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, who helped negotiate the one-time flood, wrote on her blog this month.
The pulse flow will peak from today through March 30, but water is expected to stay in the river as long as May 18.
Nearly two decades ago, when I first visited the delta of the Colorado River in northwestern Mexico, I became obsessed with the idea that major rivers like the Colorado were running dry.
I knew what the Colorado Delta had once been—a 2-million-acre expanse of wetlands, lagoons, braided channels, and towering riverside cottonwoods and willows that sustained a myriad of bird and wildlife species. The great conservationist Aldo Leopold had called it a “milk-and-honey wilderness.”
But flying low over the delta on a research trip in 1996, I saw that this once lush and vast aquatic ecosystem had mostly dried out. The freshwater that had sustained it had been siphoned off to growing cities and farms in the desert Southwest. The river stopped flowing 90 miles before reaching the sea.
Sunday March 23, 2014, at a little after 8 am, the gates at Morelos Dam on the Mexico-Arizona border were opened for the first time in history for the purpose of allowing the Colorado River to flow downstream into its delta to water the plants and animals that live there. A crowd of more than 100, many from the local community, plus a handful of reporters and water workers from afar, waited just downstream.
A cheer went up when the water began to pour down, first in a trickle, and then a steady gushing flow. It took a long time for the institutions that manage the Colorado River to make this happen. Now we have the chance to see how long it takes the river to move downstream, and how far it goes.
Jennifer Pitt, Environmental Defense Fund