By Talli Nauman*

A new agreement between Mexico and the United States will reinstate the flow to the Colorado River Delta’s ecosystem and act as a pilot project for the resolution of river-border conflicts in other latitudes.

The pact, in effect for five years, was signed by Juan Elvira, the current Secretary of Mexico’s Environmental and Natural Resources Secretariat,  and Ken Salazar, the US Secretary of the Interior. Proclaimed an historic achievement, the amendment to Treaty 44, known as Memorandum 319 is administrated by the International Boundary and River Commission.

“It is a great achievement for all those who have worked to restore the delta’s habitat, and for the local communities that will benefit”, said Francisco Zamora, director of the Colorado River Delta Legacy Program at the Sonoran Institute headquartered in Tucson, Arizona.

Zamora explained that the treaty recognizes the importance and the on-going role of NGO’s in the rehabilitation of the sensitive region of the delta, in addition to strengthening projects already in place.

“We have worked for this end for many years.  Now begins the really difficult part”’ he added, referring to the work entrusted to NGO’s of fund raising necessary  to ensure the flow of water to the delta and to support restoration efforts.

Another of the Sonoran Institute’s related projects is the restoration of almost 5 acres of habitat native to the banks of the river, making the site one of the largest areas of poplar and willow on the Mexican side of the border.

Other recent Institute projects include the establishment of wetlands habitat in the artificial marsh of Las Arenitas, and the creation of a small canal in the estuary of the Upper Gulf of California that will carry water to the sea, as had occurred naturally in the past.

As part of the binational agreement, a coalition of NGO’s including the Sonoran Institute, Pronatura Northwest, and the Environmental Defense Fund have the mandate to secure a third of the total water now assigned to the delta.  Through the Colorado River Trust, a bank trust formed by the coalition in 2008 , the organizations plan to mount a fund raising campaign in conjunction with the Nature Conservancy.

“The situation in the Colorado River Delta is emblematic of so many of the challenges we face in the protection of rivers and wetlands in the west”, said Hans Cole of Patagonia, Inc., a key partner in the restoration plans.  “At Patagonia, with our “Save the Colorado River” campaign we are inspired and hopeful when we imagine the possibilities of the restoration of this region of the delta.  We are grateful to the Sonoran Institute and to the community of partners and activists who have worked so hard to achieve change on this issue”.

Grassroots Bulletin on Sustainable Development in Northwest Mexico
Home | Index | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 1112 | 13 | 14       Español

El Secretario Salazar y las delegaciones de Mexico y Estados Unidos celebraron la firma del tratadoSecretary Salazar and delegations from Mexico and the Unitied States celebrate the signing of an historic agreement to share the waters of the Colorado River. (Photo: Tami A. Heilemann))
NGOs Reach Historic Agreement on the Restoration
of the Colorado River Delta
This agreement creates new guidelines for the management of the flow of river water and lays the basis for investment in conservation projects that will support the natural balance in times of drought.

The document “validates the importance of our restoration work in the delta and is a recognition that the constant flow of water is vital to the people, the communities and to the wildlife of the region”, said Zamora.  “It represents an important step toward achieving our goals for conservation in the region and is a welcome boost to the efforts of our many conservation partners in Mexico and the United States.

The Colorado River is a super power among rivers.  It delivers potable water to more than 30 million people, waters almost 5 million acres under cultivation, produces abundant hydroelectric energy, and supports recreation.  In addition, the Colorado River Delta is a fundamental link in the migration of close to 400 species of birds in their travels through the Sonoran desert in northern Mexico, Arizona and California.

For more than 6 million years the river followed a path from the Rocky Mountains south to the Upper Gulf of California.  However, in the 1960’s after a series of dams were built in the United States, the waters of the Colorado no longer reached the region of the delta and enormous areas of wetlands dried up, putting at risk indigenous people, their communities and the wildlife that depends on that precious liquid for survival.

“This agreement represents a milestone in the cooperative management of water resources of an international river”, said Peter Culp, attorney for Squire Saunders, who represented conservation
interests at the binational negotiations.  “It is a first step in a functional association between the United States and Mexico to meet the true environmental and human needs in the Colorado River Basin and an association that will be especially important as we face a future of increasing scarcity of resources.

In support of efforts to raise funds necessary for the revival of the delta, James Redford, son of film star Robert Redford, recently produced and distributed a documentary film, “Watershed”.  In an interview with Melóncoyote in October, during a showing of the film in Texas he said, “The restoration of the Colorado River Delta is one of the most hopeful stories of the recuperative capacity of nature.”

Through this documentary, and other means, the Colorado River Delta Water Trust is looking to raise $2 million in order to acquire an initial 8 thousand feet of water. 

Redford went on to say, “This new agreement between Mexico and the United States on the flow of the waters of the Colorado River is a tribute to the labor of the Sonoran Institute and its many partners and shows that a small amount of water can return life to the delta and to the communities in the region.

 *Co-director, Journalism to Raise Environmental Awareness

Guerrero Negro logo