Colorado River: Pulse Flow Update by Eloise Kendy

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By Eloise Kendy, Freshwater Scientist for The Nature Conservancy

Three years ago, an innovative agreement between the United States and Mexico ushered in a new era in international water management. Called Minute 319, the agreement authorized a broad array of actions in both the United States and Mexico. Among them was the recognition of the value of nature and the restoration of the parched Colorado River Delta through timed releases of water (called pulse and base flows) from upstream dams.

Once an ecological treasure, the Delta is now a a dry, desolate river channel flanked by weed-choked floodplains and irrigated farmland. Fifteen years ago, conservation visionaries resolved to restore the channel and its floodplains to the critical wildlife migration corridor that it once was. Minute 319 initiated a full-scale feasibility test of that vision.

By all accounts, Minute 319’s environmental provisions have been a success. In 2014, a pulse of water surged into the Colorado River Delta, rewetting the river corridor all the way to the Gulf of California for the first time in decades.

Residents of the Mexicali Valley flocked to the newly flowing river. Surveys revealed overwhelmingly positive responses from the local people, many of whom saw water in their river for the first time in their lives. The river flowed steadily for nearly two months.

This year, when another small pulse flow was released, local farmers reacted differently than ever before. Previously, they viewed any water in the river as wasted because it couldn’t be used to irrigate crops. This time, they welcomed the water as a sign of ecological rejuvenation in harmony, not in competition, with their livelihoods. Some of the project’s harshest critics have become supporters, having recognized that what is good for the river is also good for local communities

In places where conditions are right, riparian restoration is exceeding expectations. Native willow and cottonwood trees that germinated during the 2014 pulse flow and subsequently received nourishing “base flows” now exceed 2 meters in height. The restoration areas, where tree canopies shade moist, cool soils teeming with new life, present a stark contrast with the hot, dusty desert that they replaced. River birds such as Abert´s Towhee, ash-throated flycatcher, common yellowthroat, Gila woodpecker, yellow-breasted chat, and song sparrow returned, displacing the farm birds that had previously nudged them out. It seems that with short-term care and long-term water, the Delta could indeed revive.

Minute 319 launched a five-year experiment that ends in 2017. However, prospects for a successor agreement are good. Formal negotiations kicked off last May. U.S. Department of Interior officials have expressed the desire to achieve a new agreement by the end of 2016. U.S. and Mexican negotiators are committed to a strong environmental component, which means more fresh water for the Delta.

The main negotiators have established working groups to guide them, which in turn are relying on the findings of the binational Minute 319 science team, which the University of Arizona, Sonoran Institute, and The Nature Conservancy co-lead. The team’s monitoring program represents a substantial investment in learning how water moves through the built and natural systems that feed the Delta. The lessons we have learned from Minute 319 are already informing plans to more effectively deliver water in the future.

As a member of the science team and the Delta Water Trust, which acquired a share of the water for restoration, I feel optimistic about the negotiations. I can clearly see the pathway to a future in which a landscape-scale network of thriving conservation sites sustains native biodiversity and local people in the Colorado River Delta. As a member of the Environmental Working Group informing the negotiations, I look forward to applying the lessons from Minute 319 to an even better successor agreement that is strongly supported by both Mexico and the United States.

This post was originally published on The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River page

Welcome to the New Year!

IMG_20140329_151603_668As we begin the new year, we wanted to start by thanking all of our valued supporters and donors for being such an important part of the work we are doing to restore the Colorado River Delta. We could not have accomplished what we have without you.

As we look ahead to the coming year, our goal is to work for the conservation of the region in partnership with the people and the institutions of the Delta. In this way, we will strive to not only restore an environment that supports native biodiversity, but also provide economic and recreational benefits for the local communities of the Colorado Delta Region.

Here’s to 2016….thank you for being a part of the Raise The River community!

Raise The River…now on GoFundMe!

Go For The Goal!  Year-end Matching Campaign on GoFundMe
…now through December 31

Now in its homestretch, after a 3-year effort, Raise The River is less than $5,000 away from achieving its initial goal of raising $10 million to reconnect the Colorado River to the sea and restore life in the Delta.

TidalChannels copyThanks to the generosity of Hunter Industries, contributions will be matched dollar-for-dollar through Dec. 31, meaning the impact of your donation is doubled. Please join us now, and be a part of bringing home this landmark win for conservation and our iconic Colorado River.

We are currently working to raise the final $5,000 during the month of December: If you could find it in your heart to help in any way, donations of any amount are greatly appreciated. If you cannot donate, please help us by forwarding our GoFundMe link and video to your friends, or anyone who you think would be interested.

Contribute Today! Play a vital part in making history today, by donating to restore life and balance to the Colorado River – any amount helps us reach our goal. We are so close to a goal that will make history, but we can’t do it without your support.

Join us in rewriting history. Let’s Raise The River.

Raise The River Holiday Gift Cards Now Available

With the Holiday season upon us, you can now give the gift that makes a difference: make a donation to Raise The River in honor of a friend, family member or colleague, and you both contribute to bringing water and new life to the Colorado River Delta.

Simply select your gift from the options below. Then, provide us with the name and email of the person you choose to honor. We’ll mail your card on the day you specify, or you may print the card out yourself for personal delivery.

These unique and meaningful gifts help restore the lands, wildlife and communities of the Colorado River Delta.

Choose your gift

$10 – Plants a native cottonwood and willow tree sapling

$25 – Sponsors a child to attend an environmental education workshop and outside activities at a restored area
  $50 – Plants 10 native cottonwood and willow trees

$100 – Supports scientific data collation in the restoration region

$500 – Restores critical Delta habitat, roughly the size of 1/12 of an acre of land

Help us make a difference to the natural life and neighboring communities in the Colorado River Delta this holiday season.

Give your gifts here…

WATERSHED IN PARIS

Watershed_386x657_grande_smWe are so proud to share the news that our film Watershed, produced and narrated by Robert Redford, which tells the story of the Raise The River project, is among the films selected for the official programming of the Climate Generations Areas, at the United Nations Climate Summit in Paris – COP21.

Our screening will take place on December 4th, at 11:15 am. More information is available here.