Monitoring the Pulse of the Colorado River

Now in its 14th day, the historic pulse flow coursing through the Colorado River Delta toward the sea is under the careful watch of dozens of scientists who fan out across the landscape to measure and track its vital signs – from flow rates and salinity levels to seed dispersal by native cottonwoods and willows.

The goal is to learn as much as possible from this unique experiment in large-scale ecosystem restoration so that future pulse flows – designed to mimic the spring flood that naturally occurred before large dams and diversions were built – will deliver as many benefits to river health, habitat creation and local communities as possible.

Read more.

We’ve been astonished by the impact the pulse flow has had over the past two weeks. Check out this wonderful article by Sandra Postel for National Geographic to see what we mean. 

Photo courtesy of Cheryl Zook, National Geographic

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Will the Colorado River Delta Pulse Flow Make it to the Sea?

One of the big unknowns of the pulse flow of water currently working its way down the channel of the Colorado River in its delta is whether that water will reach the sea.  The mouth of the Colorado River drained historically into the Upper Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez), a unique body of water that Jacques Cousteau called “the world’s aquarium.”  But with dams and diversions of Colorado River water serving a population of more than 35 million in the United States and Mexico, the Colorado River hasn’t reached its destination regularly since before 1960.

The pulse flow started on March 23, and will continue through May 18.  The flow rate varies over time, by design meant to inundate the channel and later to recede slowly and stimulate germination of the seeds that will grow into native cottonwood and willow trees.  In order to do this work the pulse flow waters must travel some 25 miles (40 kilometers) of sand that typically exist in the midst of the river’s 100-mile (160-kilometer) run in its delta.

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Jennifer Pitt, Environmental Defense Fund 

Chasing the Historic “Pulse Flow” Through the Colorado River Delta

For one week now, the Colorado River has been flowing into its delta.  It’s the first ever deliberate release of water here to benefit the environment.

That the river is flowing again in its delta is somewhat astounding, all the more remarkable because it’s happening as the result of cooperation between the United States and Mexico under a new collaborative agreement on river and water management.

Read more.

Jennifer Pitt, Environmental Defense Fund 

With time, the pulse flow will restore vegetation, bird populations, and other wildlife to the Colorado River Delta. But even before that, this water is bringing local communities opportunities to gather, play, learn, and feel a renewed sense of pride in their homes and land.