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        With the West in an extended drought, the Colorado River is more stressed than ever. Rights to the water were divvied up decades ago - on the basis of what were later determined to be historically high flows. Between dams on the river blocking natural seasonal flows, diversions for agriculture, power, drinking water and other uses, it has been a long, long time since the Colorado's water actually reached the Gulf of California.

       Till now. Maybe.

More below the Orange Omnilepticon.

       New Scientist has a report by Hal Hodson on an unprecedented international agreement to release a pulse of water to try to bring the Colorado River delta back to life.

When the gates of the Morelos [Dam] open on 23 March, the river will be reunited with its delta. The eight-week-long pulse will release enough water into the dry riverbed to fill an area the size of a Manhattan city block with a column six kilometres high.

After that, the agreement stipulates that a small continuous flow, totalling an additional 64 billion litres, will infuse the delta over the next three years. It's a trickle compared with what used to reach the delta, but researchers still expect the water to bring around 950 hectares of the delta to life in the weeks after the pulse.

The experiment isn't just remarkable for its scale. It is also the first time water has crossed the US-Mexico border for environmental purposes – the result of years of negotiations between Mexican and US water authorities, as well as a host of NGOs. "As far as I know there has never been an agreement to deliver water for biological purposes," says Michael Cohen of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California. "It's been in the works for arguably 20 years."

       This is intended to restore natural vegetation and animal life to a water course that has been dry for decades. It once supported a thriving biological community and was an important stop for migrating birds. An updated report from Hodson details the massive science experiment even now taking place.
In key areas along the river's last 70 miles to the Gulf of California a huge team of scientists, Rivas among them, has worked for the last year, clearing a path for the river to come. They ripped out salt cedar trees across large meanders in the river's course, clearing them for the seeds of cottonwood and willow that will germinate in the newly wet soil. And now that water is flowing, the team are watching eagerly as the delta springs back to life.

"The US Geological Survey will start monitoring surface and groundwater immediately," says team leader Karl Flessa as he watches water rush through the dam. The agreement that set the water in motion, called Minute 319, calls for a small amount of water to continue to flow for three years after the initial deluge, and the researchers will monitor the river throughout.

The focus will be on measuring how the water flows over the dry river bed for the first few days and weeks, as well as changes in salinity, temperature and groundwater recharge. Banks of sensors placed along the riverbed, and driven deep into its soil, will do all of this automatically.

     Cindy Carcamo of the LA Times also has covered the story. (Slide show of photos here.) The LA Times is a bit less sanguine about how extensive the effects of the water release will be.
Experts from both countries will study the effects of the release. It's unlikely the water will reach the Gulf of California and unclear whether it will all soak into the soil or be left standing in parts of the channel...

…The pulse is supposed to mimic a flood produced by a spring snowmelt. However, this week's flood will provide only a smidgen of what would have flowed before the dams were built, officials said.

It is the only release planned so far. At the end of the 5-year pilot project, U.S. and Mexican officials will review findings and discuss whether other discharges should be made.

    This Youtube video shows the river at the Moreles Dam, before the release:

http://youtu.be/...

       For those who've seen images of the raging Colorado River in the depths of the Grand Canyon, its fizzling out before it can even reach the sea is difficult to comprehend. The 2012 video below gives a ground level view of what the delta has been reduced to, with all of the diversions upstream.

http://youtu.be/...

     Drought in the West is having serious consequences as water levels drop in rivers and lakes. NBC News had this story on a massive salmon transfer by truck, because there's not enough water in the river to release them at the hatchery.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

    The difficulties and protracted negotiations to restore even a limited amount of flow to the Colorado is important in many ways. It's a critical experiment in restoring a devastated ecosystem with importance far beyond its immediate locale. It's practice for addressing an increasingly serious problem around the world, as growing populations place ever greater demands on limited water supplies. It's urgent because Global Climate Change is disrupting what were 'normal' patterns in the water cycle: too much water in some places, not enough elsewhere.

     As goes the Colorado, so goes the rest of the world's rivers?

8:26 PM PT: UPDATE: thanks to Bob Love for a link to what it looks like now with the water flowing.

http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/...

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Comment Preferences

  •  Wow. It's amazing that such a thing can happen (18+ / 0-)

    in this jaded, corrupt, money-driven age.

    Here's a post-pulse story from national geographic, with some sweet, wet pictures: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/...

    Dick Cheney 2/14/10: "I was a big supporter of waterboarding"

    by Bob Love on Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 08:05:08 PM PDT

  •  Thanks, Xaxnar, for the feel good diary. n/t (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LinSea, xaxnar, RiveroftheWest, AJayne

    Rivers are horses and kayaks are their saddles

    by River Rover on Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 08:14:42 PM PDT

  •  Read Hemingway's (9+ / 0-)

    "The Sea of Cortez"

    It is about a fisherman who wondered where the life went.

    We destroyed several hundred square miles of wetlands. And an entire Sea.

  •  This diversion will last as long as it takes agri- (0+ / 0-)

    business lawyers, lobbyists, and its toady politicians to file suit to get it revoked.
    Enjoy your mud while it lasts.

    Ash-sha'b yurid isqat an-nizam!

    by fourthcornerman on Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 09:02:19 PM PDT

    •  They are using Mexico's water allotment (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tobendaro, Joe Jackson

      U.S. interests don't have any grounds to stop this, and aren't losing any water.  What they could possibly do is protest some of the other provisions of the agreement which we traded for this water.  Obama gave Mexico several carrots in return for this release.  The best leverage for farm interests is probably to claim that the agreement to store water for Mexico is in violation of the actual treaty terms when it comes time to release more than 1.5maf across the border in a future short water year.  

      Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

      by benamery21 on Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 11:05:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Always nice to read some good news (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AJayne, xaxnar

    before heading off to bed. Thanks for posting this!

    I'm a Christian, therefore I'm a liberal.

    by VirginiaJeff on Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 09:18:21 PM PDT

  •  Here's the signing announcement (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, tobendaro, skohayes

    of the agreement to do this from Nov 2012:

    http://www.usbr.gov/...

    In my opinion this agreement was a near direct result of the 2012 Mexican election removing PAN from the presidency.

    Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

    by benamery21 on Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 09:27:16 PM PDT

  •  Minute 319 text (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, tobendaro, skohayes

    http://ibwc.state.gov/...

    Pages 11-14 cover this program

    Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

    by benamery21 on Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 11:34:42 PM PDT

  •  Minor quibble (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tobendaro, skohayes

    "With the West in an extended drought, the Colorado River is more stressed than ever."

    Reservoir levels (on the Colorado) are still higher than in 2005, and Upper Basin snowpack is above average this year, such that reservoir levels will rise slightly.  The 14 year drought isn't good, but Colorado River Basin has been in somewhat worse shape in the recent past.  

    Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

    by benamery21 on Wed Mar 26, 2014 at 03:24:17 AM PDT

    •  True, but…. (0+ / 0-)

      Everyone in the basin is keeping an eye on the water because it changes - and you never know when the rains or snows will come.

      Even if the river doesn't get any worse, population pressures will continue if there is any growth within the basin. More people looking for a share of a finite amount of water is not good.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Wed Mar 26, 2014 at 04:15:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Water policy in the West (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        xaxnar

        has been, is, and will be an area in need of active government.

        Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

        by benamery21 on Wed Mar 26, 2014 at 05:59:44 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Not really (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar

      2005 was the all-time lowpoint for the reservoirs on the Colorado.  Just because there's more water now doesn't mean that things are much better.

      The key issue is the climate models are largely in agreement that the Southwest will be getting drier and drier in the future.

      The next Noah will work a short shift. - Charles Bowden

      by Scott in NAZ on Wed Mar 26, 2014 at 06:05:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I guess we can quibble (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        xaxnar

        about what "more stress than ever" means but we don't usually describe an above average (for unregulated inflow) water year that way, even if we only have 28maf in Powell and the Lower Basin mainstem reservoirs.  Note that this storage fell by around 4maf in what was one of the worst water years ever recorded, last year.  

        Most of the water use in both the Upper and Lower Basins is to grow low value hay/pasture with relatively low efficiency irrigation.  "Low" water usage communities in the U.S. typically average about 4 times as much water per capita as Australians.  Most municipal wastewater in the West is not recycled.  

        A longterm, lower average rainfall is primarily a political problem, not an existential crisis for supporting population in the Southwest.  Similarly, finding mainstem Colorado water for environmental use is a political problem more than a technical one.  The Democratic supermajority in the California legislature could resolve that issue unilaterally, if they valued the environmental benefits highly enough.  Of course, this is a political non-starter.

        Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

        by benamery21 on Wed Mar 26, 2014 at 08:00:13 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Meh. This is lipstick on a pig. (0+ / 0-)

    The amount of water being released is nothing--a fraction of a percent of what should be flowing there.  No one knows if this will have any major effects.  And, with the Southwest getting drier and drier thanks to climate change, I doubt that there will be excess water to do this again anytime soon.

    They've already been doing experimental "floods" on the Colorado in the Grand Canyon, and for the most part those have been a failure.

    The only way to fix this river is to get rid of the damned dams.

    The next Noah will work a short shift. - Charles Bowden

    by Scott in NAZ on Wed Mar 26, 2014 at 06:02:51 AM PDT

    •  No one knows, but... (0+ / 0-)

      At least now they're making a start on finding out.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Wed Mar 26, 2014 at 06:10:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Why bother? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        AZsparky

        You don't need a study to show that returning the river to it's delta would be good for the ecosystem.  But just opening the tap for a few minutes is hardly going to recreate the vibrant ecosystem that Aldo Leopold and others described in the first half of the last century.

        It's not as if Las Vegas and LA are going to decide to give up some of their water allotment to grow cottonwood trees in Mexico.  Like I said, it's going to get harder and harder to find any extra water in the future.  Stunts like this (and the floods in the Grand Canyon) make it seem like the dam system on the Colorado is compatible with a healthy ecosystem.  That's just false.

        The next Noah will work a short shift. - Charles Bowden

        by Scott in NAZ on Wed Mar 26, 2014 at 06:22:55 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Look - it is a start, okay? (0+ / 0-)

          It is putting attention on the problem. It is getting people to think about water - and not just water for people. If you demand all or nothing, right now, well you're going to get nothing.

          This release of water is a wedge, a place to start. You can't flatly state it will have no effect or know where it will lead without actually trying it.

          The Clearwater was seen as a stunt when it first started sailing the Hudson. Now? It's a different story.

          Baby steps maybe, but steps still the same.

          "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

          by xaxnar on Wed Mar 26, 2014 at 06:44:54 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  A start implies a future (0+ / 0-)

            Are there future plans to release more water?  Enough water to actually keep the river flowing all year and restore some nutrients to the Sea of Cortez?  No, there aren't.

            Where's the water going to come from to keep this going?

            Meanwhile, the time and money being spent on this could be spent on actual conservation elsewhere in Mexico--like maybe buying up some Oyamel Fir forests so that monarch butterflies don't go extinct.

            The next Noah will work a short shift. - Charles Bowden

            by Scott in NAZ on Wed Mar 26, 2014 at 06:55:39 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Let's try a thought experiment (0+ / 0-)

              Your objections have been submitted to the Moreles Dam, and the floodgates are now closed. If, as you maintain, they will not be releasing enough water to fully restore the delta, they've decided to keep things as they are. Ergo:

              All of the prep work planting vegetation, clearing debris, putting out sensors and doing surveys of the watercourse has been discontinued.

              10 plus years of complicated international diplomacy have been thrown out, not only killing this project, but any comparable future negotiations about water.

              Researchers have no data to say "This is what we get with X amount of water. This is what we'd expect with X+Y amount of water. Which in turn suggests just how much water we need for sufficient benefits to justify further releases."

              Communities and constituencies downstream from the dam turn their backs on the river once more.

              And no money is magically freed up for conservation elsewhere in Mexico. There's no pot of money floating around just looking for places to be spread; that's not the way it works.

              Is this really what you're arguing for?  Because that seems to be the likeliest scenario to me.

              "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

              by xaxnar on Wed Mar 26, 2014 at 09:44:35 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  You're missing the bigger picture (0+ / 0-)

                The only way this will be more than a once in a blue moon event is if there is a massive change in the usage of water on the LCR.  Within a couple of decades, climate change is going to make the idea of "surplus" water that can be released for nature a joke.  In that case, it won't actually matter how much data we get from this flood--there will be neither the political will nor the available water to make it happen.

                Meanwhile, people back in Las Vegas and LA see this story on TV and think, "Oh, great, we can keep using all the water we're using now and still have some leftover for the delta."  That's false, and it's going to become more and more false every year.  This sort of thing just perpetuates the idea that the current plumbing system that's replaced the LCR is sustainable.

                Like I said earlier, the "floods" out of Glen Canyon Dam were largely unsuccessful at creating beaches or fish habitat, but they keep happening because the optics are great for BuRec and DoI, and the rafters like the (temporary) beaches.  

                The next Noah will work a short shift. - Charles Bowden

                by Scott in NAZ on Wed Mar 26, 2014 at 10:17:58 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  So this is just feel-good PR? (0+ / 0-)

                  I hope you are wrong. It doesn't have to be, if the experiment is evaluated honestly.

                  If we didn't do things because stupid people would draw the wrong message, nothing would ever get done. If they hadn't done the releases upstream, you'd have no info to critique this. And it doesn't sound like this is about restoring beaches; you may be doing the apples-oranges thing here.

                  "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

                  by xaxnar on Wed Mar 26, 2014 at 11:03:28 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

  •  It's looking to be a good year for snowpack (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar

    “Conservation… is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution…” Aldo Leopold

    by ban nock on Wed Mar 26, 2014 at 07:53:10 AM PDT

    •  Good news - but where? (0+ / 0-)

      In the Rockies? Last time I checked the Sierras were still pretty short of where they need to be - but I suspect the Cascades had a decent year by the close.

      Lots of numbers here. It shows some areas doing really well, and others not good at all.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Wed Mar 26, 2014 at 09:27:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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