How a trickle of water is breathing life into the parched #ColoradoRiver Delta — #Arizona Central #COriver #aridification

Here’s an in-depth look at restoration efforts in the Colorado River Delta from Ian James writing for ArizonaCentral.com. Click through and read the whole article and to enjoy the beautiful photography. Here’s an excerpt:

In the long-dry Colorado River Delta in Mexico, environmental groups are using small amounts of water to restore wetlands and forests one area at a time

The Colorado River once flowed with so much water that steamboats sailed on its wide, meandering stretches near the U.S.-Mexico border. When the environmentalist Aldo Leopold paddled the river’s delta in Mexico nearly a century ago, he was filled with awe at the sight of “a hundred green lagoons.”

Now, what’s left of the river crosses the border and pushes up against the gates of Morelos Dam. Nearly all the remaining water is shunted aside into Mexico’s Reforma Canal, which runs toward fields of cotton, wheat, hay and vegetables in the Mexicali Valley.

Downstream from the dam sits a rectangular lagoon that resembles a pond in a city park. Swallows swarm over the water, diving and skimming across its glassy surface. From here, a narrow stream the width of a one-lane road continues into a thicket, flanked by tall grasses.

Morelos Dam. Photo credit American Rivers.

About a dozen miles farther south, the Colorado River disappears in the desert. Beside fields of alfalfa and green onions, the dry riverbed spreads out in a dusty plain where only gray desert shrubs survive…

[Jennifer] Pitt is director of the National Audubon Society’s Colorado River program. She visited the delta with Gaby Caloca of the Mexican environmental group Pronatura Noroeste. The two co-chair a cross-border environmental work group that includes government officials and experts from both countries, and they’re working together on plans to restore wetlands in parts of the Colorado River Delta.

These efforts to resurrect pieces of the delta’s desiccated ecosystems face major challenges, including limited funds, scarce water supplies, and the hotter, drier conditions brought on by climate change.

But in the past decade, environmental groups have had success bringing back patches of life in parts of the river delta. In these green islands surrounded by the desert, water delivered by canals and pumps is helping to nourish wetlands and forests. Cottonwoods and willows have been growing rapidly. Birds have been coming back and are singing in the trees.

Martha Gomez-Sapiens, a monitoring team member and postdoctoral research associate in the UA Department of Geosciences, stands on a riverbank next to willows and cottonwoods that germinated as a result of the pulse flow. (Photo: Karl W. Flessa/UA Department of Geosciences)

Pitt, Caloca and other environmentalists say they’ve found that even though there isn’t nearly enough water available to restore a flowing river from the border to the sea, these modest projects planting trees and creating wetlands are showing promise. Even relatively small amounts of water are helping breathe life into parts of the delta.

And during the next several years, more water is set to flow to the restoration sites under a 2017 agreement between Mexico and the U.S…

Young girl enjoying the river restored temporarily by the pulse flow March 2014 via National Geographic

In the spring of 2014, a surge of water poured through the gates of Morelos Dam on the border. That “pulse flow” of 105,000 acre-feet of water brought back a flowing river in areas that had been dry since floods in the late 1990s.

Crowds of jubilant revelers gathered by the resurrected river. They dipped their feet into the water and waded in.

Some danced on the banks and drank beer. Others tossed nets into the water and pulled out flapping fish…

…the pulse flow gave Mexican and U.S. officials a visual demonstration of the potential of restoration efforts — an example that nudged them toward budgeting water for the environment as they negotiated a new Colorado River agreement.

“I think having that river flowing piqued people’s interest,” Pitt said. “It opened people’s imagination to the idea. It gave them a vision of the Colorado River here that has energized these restoration efforts.”

When representatives of the governments signed the next deal in 2017, it cleared the way for smaller but substantial flows to expand several habitat restoration sites.

The agreement, called Minute 323, acknowledged that the work group led by representatives from both countries had recommended goals including expanding the habitat areas from 1,076 acres to 4,300 acres, and setting aside an annual average of $40 million and 45,000 acre-feet of water for environmental restoration in the delta…

The deal included pledges for about half that much water, a total of 210,000 acre-feet through 2026 — enough water that if spread across Phoenix would cover two-thirds of the city a foot deep. This water — averaging 23,000 acre-feet a year — represents a small fraction of the 1.5 million acre-feet that Mexico is entitled to each year under a 1944 treaty, and an even smaller fraction of the larger allotments that California and Arizona take from the river upstream.

Mexico and the U.S. each agreed to provide a third of the water, while a coalition of environmental nonprofits pledged to secure the remainder. Each government agreed to contribute $9 million for restoration projects and $9 million for research and monitoring work.

So far, environmental groups have been buying water in Mexico through a trust and pumping it from agricultural canals into three restoration areas. More water is scheduled to be delivered by the two governments over the next several years, including water the U.S. plans to obtain by paying for conservation projects in Mexico.

When the infusion comes, the wetlands and newly planted forests will get a bigger drink.

“We are scaling up,” Pitt said from the backseat, while Caloca drove through farmlands toward one of the restoration sites.

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