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.