A Delta Once More

A new report documents birds, marine-life, and vegetation in the Colorado River delta

provided by Environmental Defense Fund


he Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) released new report, A Delta Once More, an important scientific analysis of life in the Colorado River delta since water has returned in the past two decades. The report details how water gets to the delta, and documents habitats and species living there.

Early naturalists and explorers observed the Colorado River delta as a maze of channels and lagoons teaming with vegetation, birds, fish and native people, in contrast to Mexico's Sonoran Desert that surrounds the delta. As the demand for regular supplies of water increased in the West, dams began to pepper the Colorado River in the United States, upstream from the delta. Filling these dams depleted the delta of water, depriving plants and wildlife of essential water flow for years. Plants disappeared and wildlife populations diminished.

"For years many, scientists suspected that so little water was reaching the Colorado River delta that it was, in a sense, dead," said Jennifer Pitt, a principle author of the report and policy analyst for EDF. The report is a collaborative effort by EDF, the Environmental Research Laboratory at the University of Arizona, the Technological Institute in Guaymas, Mexico, and the Sonoran Institute.

According to the report, there is enough fresh water reaching the delta to support a unique mix of life. "The Colorado River delta can be protected by a small amount of the river's native flow," said Ed Glenn, a biologist at the Environmental Research Laboratory. The delta is an important link in the Pacific flyway, providing winter habitat for migrating birds and home to the Cucapá, an indigenous tribe, as well as rare birds, fish and the rare vaquita porpoise. These resources are threatened as the supply of fresh water that flows to the delta is unpredictable and finds its way there accidentally.


Even a little is asking a lot


The authors of A Delta Once More suggest potential solutions to ensure fresh water flows, such as deliberately diverting wastewater to the delta. The delta's minimum water requirements are modest. Yet nearly a century of contention over the Colorado River has produced an amalgamation of international treaties, interstate compacts, laws and regulations, and even the simplest of solutions will be difficult to achieve.

"As the Colorado Delta provides benefits that do not consider political boundaries, management and restoration should be seen as a shared responsibility between Mexico and the United States," said Carlos Valdes, an author of the report from Mexico.

Visit the delta at the EDF website and download a free copy of A Delta Once More at www.edf.org/delta. The Environmental Defense Fund, a leading national, NY-based nonprofit organization, represents 300,000 members. EDF links science, economics, and law to create innovative, equitable, and economically viable solutions to today's environmental problems. © 1999 Environmental Defense Fund, 257 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10010