Part 4: Farmers Benefit from the Return of the River

This is the fourth blog in a 5-part series on the Colorado River pulse flow, written by Cesar Angulo, an environmental journalist in Mexico, and commissioned by Environmental Defense Fund. Read Parts 12 and 3.

In the last stretch before reaching the Gulf of California, the Colorado River divides two of the most productive agricultural valleys of Northwestern Mexico: the San Luis Valley on the left bank and the Mexicali Valley on the right bank.

These valleys have nutrient rich soil resulting from the transportation of sediments to the low lands that were formerly flooded by the Colorado River, which together with the diverted river water for irrigation has led to a rich agricultural region that is central to the local economy.

Farmers and water managers in this region understand that the pulse flow will bring direct and positive benefits to the agricultural sector.

José Fidencio Gonzalez Arroyo is the chairman of Irrigation Module No. 22 in the San Luis Valley, an extensive agricultural area that has served the region since the early part of the last century, producing wheat, cotton and vegetables. It also has thousands of acres of date palm plantations.

Arroyo Gonzalez is a native farmer in this valley and remembers the last major flood of the Colorado River decades ago. Since then, the volume of water running freely in the delta has been reduced to nothing.

Due to the lack of water in the lower Colorado River, Arroyo Gonzalez says, the vegetation and riparian ecosystem has suffered.

But in recent years, a new partnership has been developed among farmers, water managers, and conservation groups to restore the the delta ecosystem.

Arroyo Gonzalez explains that his irrigation module is responsible for providing water for restoration projects that have irrigation rights, such as the Laguna Grande project and the CILA site, where thousands of trees have been planted with the purpose of ecological restoration.

According to Arroyo Gonzalez, these reforestation projects have a very positive effect on agricultural areas by helping to reduce high temperatures, as well as recharging aquifers used by the agricultural sector. However, he recognizes that there is still a lack of information among farmers about the restoration projects and their extended benefits on the farming community.

There is even some doubt among farmers about where the water for the pulse flow comes from, and if it is the best use of water, especially since the demand for water in the region is so high. Some believe that the first priority should be to irrigate land to produce food, and deliveries for ecological purposes should be secondary.

Alfonso Rubio Russel is another irrigation chariman in the San Luis agricultural valley. He said that one of the main purposes of the pulse flow and accompanying base flow is to help recharge aquifers which in turn will promote the extraction of water in deep wells for agricultural use.

The pulse flow, he stressed, will help to create microclimates in areas near the river and will benefit the vegetation, even if only temporarily.

"The pulse flow is a good idea, but it will hardly restore a river that has suffered a lack of water for years," he said.

Chairman Russel said that it is precisely because of the ever-increasing demand for water that we must take care of it.

"We would like to see the Colorado River as it was before," he said. But to do that, “we must be in harmony with nature.”

Part 3: Water Restores Ecosystems and Benefits Communities

This is the third blog in a 5-part series on the Colorado River pulse flow, written by Cesar Angulo, an environmental journalist in Mexico, and commissioned by Environmental Defense Fund. Read Parts 1 and 2.

The pulse flow that has brought water to a thirsty Colorado River Delta will allow the regeneration and restoration of the spacious riparian areas along the banks of the river, where communities and organizations have come together to restore vegetation and wildlife habitat that once existed.

Two of the most important restoration sites are Laguna Grande, located near the end of the agricultural areas of the San Luis and Mexicali valleys, and Miguel Aleman - the limitrophe on the right bank of the river in the North Valley of Mexicali.

Both sites are the product of the union and effort of civil societies, academia and the governments of the United States and Mexico, who have obtained federal land grants and water rights that will allow the creation and regeneration of native forests and species.

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[Guadalupe Fonseca Molina shows trees that have matured at Laguna Grande]

Guadalupe Fonseca Molina is the site coordinator for Laguna Grande, a project lead by Sonoran Institute since 2006 that works to reestablish new poplar and willow forests in the floodplains of the lower Colorado River.

The pulse flow has directly impacted this site, as water entered into Laguna Grande through channels built to connect with the Colorado River. In recent weeks, seeds have been spread in the hope that they will germinate and grow by the river channel as a result of the new flowing water.

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[Dredged channels bring water from the pulse flow to the restoration sites]

Fonseca commented that a lot of work as been put into this project to counter the advance of salt cedar (Tamarix aphylla), an invasive tree species that has imposed on the native vegetation and has become a pest throughout the lower basin.

The biologist responsible for the scientific monitoring of the Laguna Grande site, Tomás Rivas, said that poplar and willow forests used to grow naturally in wide areas along the Colorado River Delta, generating a riparian corridor with abundant wildlife. Through restoration, Tomás seeks to help restore some of these areas and connect some green patches of forest along delta.

The Miguel Aleman project, coordinated by Pronatura Noroeste, was born six years ago. It aims to restore woodlands that were destroyed by the lack of water in delta.

Salvador Chavez Alacaráz, restoration project coordinator for Pronatura Noroeste, said that the first years were focused on the production of test trees such as poplars, willows and mesquites.Subsequently, the focus shifted to the creation of nurseries for mass production of these trees.

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[Salvador Chavez Alacaráz oversees tree nurseries at Miguel Aleman]

This year, Pronatura Noroeste staff are ready to reforest 35 hectares (90 acres) and ensure good growth with an irrigation system that brings water from a canal intended for agricultural use. In the next three years, the objective is to reforest 90 hectares with mesquite, poplar and willow tress, which used to cover the areas bordering the Colorado River.

"Now, we expect the pulse flow to recharge the aquifer and provide moisture to the subsoil where the trees have been planted," said Chavez Alacaráz.

He mentioned that Pronatura Noroeste managed to get a grant of 450 acres of federal land surrounding the bed of the Colorado River, in which it intends to implement ecological restoration projects. These projects will have direct benefits to the environment, and thanks to water brought by the pulse flow, the ecosystem will naturally be restored.

Meanwhile, Hector Patiño Garduño, restoration technician for Pronatura Noroeste and resident of Ejido Janitzio, recalls when he came to live in Ejido Janitzio about three decades ago. He remembers the Colorado River regularly bringing water to the area and settlers from Mexicali Valley would fish in the river.

"We have been waiting for the pulse flow for over a year now. We are hoping for positive impacts - the recharge of the aquifer and the restoration of wildlife that used to exist in the river," he said.

Patiño Garduño thinks that the water in the river will help bring back the balance, since “lately, coyotes have been coming to our houses and trying to hunt our chickens. With the water, they will hopefully have more food to hunt by the river.”

He added that these restoration projects, besides helping families living in the surrounding towns of the Colorado River, will also generate jobs and keep people employed and living in Mexico, rather than moving elsewhere.

"As a community, we don’t want the pulse flow to end. The river is a necessity of the environment and communities," he concluded.


“But there is more to this story:  there is value in seeing the river flow again, where it has been missing for so long. We saw that in the faces of the children who danced in the water in San Luis Rio Colorado, and we saw it in the faces of the farmers who travelled to the remote river channel behind their fields, staring in disbelief that the river was running again.  We heard it in the words of the officials who stood on Morelos Dam, when the gates were opened to allow the water to pass through, as they celebrated the river’s return to the delta.  And we see it in the global interest that has been piqued in whether the river will return to the sea.”
Read more

The Colorado River has made it through the delta to the Upper Gulf of California. While it certainly wasn’t the goal of the pulse flow or Minute 319, it’s an incredible milestone that shows that a little bit of water truly can go a long way. 

“But there is more to this story:  there is value in seeing the river flow again, where it has been missing for so long. We saw that in the faces of the children who danced in the water in San Luis Rio Colorado, and we saw it in the faces of the farmers who travelled to the remote river channel behind their fields, staring in disbelief that the river was running again.  We heard it in the words of the officials who stood on Morelos Dam, when the gates were opened to allow the water to pass through, as they celebrated the river’s return to the delta.  And we see it in the global interest that has been piqued in whether the river will return to the sea.”

Read more

The Colorado River has made it through the delta to the Upper Gulf of California. While it certainly wasn’t the goal of the pulse flow or Minute 319, it’s an incredible milestone that shows that a little bit of water truly can go a long way. 


Part 2: A ‘River People’ without a River

This is the second blog in a 5-part series on the Colorado River pulse flow, written by Cesar Angulo, an environmental journalist in Mexico, and commissioned by Environmental Defense Fund. Read Part 1.

Think of a great river that is born in the Rocky Mountains and runs approximately 2500 miles before it encounters the Gulf of California, in Mexico. On its mighty circulating current, steamships spread goods in ports and riverine villages - or so it happened a century ago.

Think of a people whose life was and has been intimately linked to the Colorado River for centuries. The Cucapá are one such people. In 1540, the Spanish explorer Fernando Alarcón was the first to mention the tribe of the Colorado River. Their tribe name means “river people” in Yuman language, and their stories give us clues to what life along the Colorado River was like before the construction of large dams throughout the basin.

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[Doña Inocencia Gonzalez Sainz is an elder of the Cucapá tribe who used to fish in the delta region.]

The Cucapá mainly inhabit a community called El Mayor, located beside the Mexicali-San Felipe highway. Other Cucapá communities live in villages of the Mexicali Valley and in Yuma, Arizona. 

The Cucapá culture is closely linked to the Colorado River and its delta. Their life since inception has depended on the river, taking advantage of the river banks to plant and prepare the rich and moist delta soil at the end of spring floods and midsummer.

Doña Inocencia Gonzalez Sainz, an older woman who has excelled in her craft work, and in preserving and teaching the language and culture to new generations of Cucapás, recalls the greatness that once was the Colorado River.

"We went fishing on pangas, when the river was carrying a lot of water - very strong running river water. Sometimes we camped beside the river when there was good fishing. We spent several days there and we brought back a lot of fish to El Mayor," recalls Inocencia. She now spends her days tending the Community Museum, where she also creates and sells her crafts.

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[The Hardy River - a tributary of the Colorado River in Mexico]

Inocencia talks about how the Cucapás used to be able to live off of fishing in the Hardy River - a tributary of the Colorado - and the delta area because the fishing was plentiful. She also remembers the last time she went fishing was in the late eighties, when the delta was still connected to the river and the fish still abundant. But after that came a long dry period in the lower basin.

Inocencia is very happy to see that water is flowing in the Colorado River Delta once again, because without water, she says, the Cucapá are destined to become extinct. 

Part 1: A Historical and Personal Perspective of the Pulse Flow

This is the first post of a 5-part blog series on the Colorado River pulse flow, written by Cesar Angulo and commissioned by Environmental Defense Fund. Cesar is an environmental journalist; he founded and directs bionero.org, an independent blog, and graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Sciences from UABC-Mexicali. The series was originally written in Spanish and translated into English. 

[Cesar, right, interviews a restoration worker at Laguna Grande, where trees are being planted to restore the riparian corridor along the river delta]

This is an historic moment: the flow of water running through the original channel of the Colorado River Delta—a flow that has been diverted for years for use by agriculture, cities and industries, and in consequence has neglected the riparian ecosystem and the delta.

This “pulse flow” of water into the last portion of the Colorado River passing through Mexico will benefit a riparian ecosystem that has suffered from a lack of water in recent years. All of this has been made ​​possible through the cooperative effort of environmental organizations that have worked at least 15 years in both Mexico and the United States to achieve recognition of the ecosystem as a warranted recipient of Colorado River water.

The signing of Minute 319 in 2012 by U.S. and Mexican representatives from the International Boundary and Water Commission resulted in the initial delivery.

On March 23, 2014, 105,392 acre-feet of water were released at Morelos Dam to provide environmental benefits to the last and final stretch of the Colorado River Delta.

The stipulated environmental flows in Minute 319 include both the pulse flow and “base flows.” The pulse flow will end on May 18, 2014, but the base flow consists of an additional 52,696 acre-feet to be delivered over a longer period of time. Water for the pulse flow and base flows are being provided by non-governmental organizations through the Delta Water Trust.

It is expected that the base flow and pulse flow will help restore approximately 950 acres of habitat, allowing seedling germination of native trees such as willows and poplars, and bringing water to support tree growth.

For me, there is also a personal significance to seeing water return to the river delta.

[A boy in San Luis Rio Colorado sees the river for the first time when his family goes to picnic by the river after the release of the pulse flow]

I was born in San Luis Rio Colorado, and in my childhood and adolescence it was common for my family to enjoy trips to the Colorado River during the spring. At that time, the river would carry water for several months. But upon reaching adulthood in the ’90s, we stopped enjoying our trips to the river because there was no water. 

In the late ’90s, when I began my career as an environmental journalist, I had the opportunity to tour the lower Colorado River from Hoover Dam down to the dwindled delta. I was greatly impressed by the dam, but it starkly contrasted with the amount of water in the river in Mexico.

The Colorado River pulse flow represents the definite success of the push led by environmental groups, scientists and citizens over the least 15 years to consider the environment as another aspect of the services provided by the river. It is a matter of environmental justice for the people and communities in the delta, but also for the major players in this story—the flora and fauna—who have no voice. 

highcountrynews:

In an era of light pollution, here are the darkest skies in the American West. Many of them are hot spots for dark-sky tourism - people visiting to see stars that are obscured by lights in their hometowns.

See more images and read the story at http://hcne.ws/1nKCTUM

If you’re looking for some place beautiful to admire the starry night sky, may we humbly suggest the Colorado River Delta? Judging by this map, it has virtually no light pollution. And if the pulse flow continues to be successful, it’ll have a lovely river to sit by, as well.