The Colorado River is one of the world’s hardest‐working and most‐loved rivers. It provides water to more than 36 million people, irrigates four million acres of farmland, and serves as the lifeblood for native tribes, seven National Wildlife Refuges, and 11 National Parks. It produces 4,200 megawatts of hydropower and supports a $26--‐billion tourism and recreation economy.

Flowing for more than six million years, the “American Nile's” Delta once stretched over two million acres – with vast wetlands and waterways extending from the southwestern tip of the U.S. to the Gulf of California in Mexico. The Delta was the life-‐giving cradle of prosperity and culture in the region.

Today, the Delta is a remnant of its former self. As The American West grew ever more demanding of its river, flows dwindled and the river dried up. Plants, animals and marine life began to disappear. Native communities that had once thrived along its banks for a thousand years began to see their traditions and culture wither away.

Over the past decade, policymakers, water agencies and non-governmental organizations from the U.S. and Mexico have begun working cooperatively to create historic change for the delta.

In 2012, we hit a milestone. That’s when the U.S. and Mexican governments agreed to a set of Delta restoration provisions in a historic, binational water-sharing agreement known as Minute 319.

This new and innovative policy framework allows the U.S. and Mexico to share water surpluses in times of plenty and reductions in times of drought, provides incentives for leaving water in storage, and conserves water through joint investments in projects from water users in both countries. It also lays the foundation for ongoing environmental restoration projects in the Colorado River Delta, including the limited duration pulse flow that took place in spring 2014, bringing temporary relief to the Delta and allowing the river to flow to the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998.

Today, monitoring of the pulse flow is being carried out by federal agencies, universities, and conservation organizations to determine the impacts of the pulse flow on the Delta ecosystem. We are also paying close attention to the local communities’ responses. Their feedback is invaluable as the U.S. and Mexico consider next steps for delta restoration.

Minute 319 expires in 2017, but our team is working to extend the agreement with a more comprehensive, longer-term plan.
With your help, we can demonstrate that hope is not lost for the Colorado River Delta Delta. Learn more about our progress and help us Raise the River.

On May 14, 2014, the Colorado River flowed all the way to the sea for the first time since 1998. It was a historic reunion that was decades overdue. And it was made possible by the pulse flow.

Set in motion by a 2012 U.S.-Mexico agreement, this “pulse flow” was designed to mimic, at a reduced scale, the kind of periodic floods that inundated the Colorado River Delta for eons, keeping the river corridor healthy by spreading seeds of native vegetation and creating conditions in which those native seedlings could thrive. Plans for the pulse flow were confirmed on January 31, 2014, when U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and her Mexican counterpart – Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT) Secretary Juan Jose Guerra Abud – announced the one-time release of 105,392 acre-feet (130 million cubic meters) of water down the Colorado River into the Delta channel, where water has not flowed regularly since 1960.

Running from March 23 – May 18, 2014, the pulse flow brought much needed relief to Delta ecosystems and communities.

Over the next several months, ecologists and restoration workers will gather valuable information to share with the binational negotiating team as they take next steps to decide how best to restore key areas of the once vast Colorado River Delta. Specifically, the pulse flow is expected to restore the lost riparian habitat, home to several hundred bird species, including endangered species.

We are also taking note of the social and cultural benefits of a healthy delta ecosystem. Several communities including the Cucapa tribe – Cucapa meaning “river people” –have witnessed the drying up of a river that shaped their history and identity. Dona Inocencia, a former fisherman and elder Cucapa tribe member, said the she remembers when the river stopped flowing back in the ‘80s. When asked about the future, she simply said, “Without the river, we are destined to become extinct.”

The pulse flow represents a sign of hope for the people, birds and other wildlife that depend on a healthy river. It is an unprecedented and unique event in the global context, and we hope to use the momentum of this historic event to bring more water to the delta in the future.

Raise the River is working to bring life back to the Delta.

Repairing the damage done to the Delta is a long-term project. But, we are making great strides in showing how a relatively small amount of regular water flow, combined with a periodic pulse flow and on-the-ground restoration activities, can revive and expand the native habitat that is so vital to the Delta’s people, birds and wildlife. Our five-year goal is 2300 acres of restored habitat.

Raise the River partners Sonoran Institute and Pronatura Noroeste have partnered with local communities in areas of the Delta that have the best restoration potential. The Laguna Grande Restoration area is located on the heart of the Colorado River riparian corridor in Mexico. To date, over 180 acres have been restored under Sonoran Institute’s leadership, with additional acreage expected to benefit from the recent pulse flow. The 2017 goal of 750 restored acres for this site would make this one of the largest and most dense stands of native vegetation in the Lower Colorado River. Water acquired through the voluntary transactions managed by the Colorado River Delta Water Trust will help support growth of native vegetation at Laguna Grande through the dry summer. Local residents have been employed to help with the restoration and more are being trained as nature tourism guides. Partial funding for this work has been provided through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and private sources.

Pronatura Noroeste has worked closely with the small community of Miguel Alemán to establish a 500-acre riparian restoration site located right across the river from the Yuma’s Hunters’ Hole restoration project. Planting of 100 acres of native vegetation, with over 80,000 young trees grown by local community members, is just getting underway, and local residents are also employed in the restoration work. Both of these projects provide habitat for at risk bird species, including the yellow-billed cuckoo and the Yuma clapper rail. Water acquired through the Trust will also support the restored habitat at this site.

On October 21, the International Boundary Water Commission (IBWC) published their interim report on the impact on the environment of this 2014 pulse flow, plus subsequent supplemental deliveries of water through December 2015. A binational, University of Arizona-led team of scientists and environmental experts – including those from The Nature Conservancy and the Sonoran Institute – contributed to the report. Download the Minute 319 Colorado River Limitrophe and Delta Environmental Flows Monitoring Interim Report.