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Bilateral water pact restores delta and friendship

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colorado_riverThe Colorado River meanders 1,450 miles, out from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and down through Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California. 

The river crosses the border with Mexico where it forms a delta at its hydrological termination point in the Sea of Cortez. However, because of heavy usage of the water upriver, the flow now ends about 75 miles short of its former route. The Colorado River Delta’s demise has turned the once-lush habitat into a large, dry mud flat.

However, a new, historic water-use agreement between the United States and Mexico seeks to change that scenario and restore the delta, to the delight of environmentalists in the U.S. and Mexico who had a hand in creating the pact.

“The delta at one time was enormous. If it were in existence today, I would speculate that it would be one of the eight wonders of the world; it was that massive and impressive a place,” says Patrick Graham with the Nature Conservancy in Arizona.  

The Colorado is an important water source for urban areas, agriculture and recreational use by almost 40 million people on, or near, the watershed. The flow is controlled by a system of dams, reservoirs and aqueducts. 

The majority of the time, the delta is dry, as it has been since the Glen Canyon Dam in Page started holding back water in 1960. The new agreement will add a thousand times more water to the delta over the five-year period of the pact. The river could begin delivering more water to the delta as early as spring, 2013. 

That’s welcome news to Mexican conservationists, like Francisco Zamora, who directs the Sonoran Institute’s Colorado River Delta Legacy Program in Tucson. The Sonoran Institute also has offices in other western U.S. states and in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. He’s already seen how the delta can flourish when the water flows. His volunteers planted trees in the area last year, irrigated them with just a little water and watched as the trees quickly bloomed. 

Conservationists in both countries predict that the increased flow will produce wetland habitat for many fish, birds and mammals, like bobcat and beavers. Zamora is optimistic  that commercial fishing and recreation in the delta will undergo a resurgence. 

The bilateral agreement is also an excellent example of two countries being good neighbors for their mutual benefit, Zamora adds. “And that’s why the delta is a good example of hope,” he says.

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