Two Nations, One River: Managing Ecosystem Conservation in the Colorado River Delta
Posted: 16 Jul 2001
The Colorado River delta historically consisted of riparian, freshwater, brackish, and tidal wetlands that covered 1,930,000 acres and supported a legendary richness of plant, bird, and marine life. Dam construction and water diversions in the United States and Mexico in the twentieth century reduced the Delta to small areas of wetlands and brackish mudflats. The Delta is no longer a system that can be understood solely in terms of biology and hydrology; human actions, embedded within a complex institutional framework, have significantly altered and modified the Delta. In the last two decades, flood releases from reservoirs in the United States and agricultural return flows from both the United States and Mexico have begun to restore Delta ecosystems on about 150,000 acres. Deliberate management of existing water resources can significantly improve conditions in this region. This article reviews the numerous institutions that can play a role in conservation of the Colorado River delta and discusses options to protect the Delta's ecosystems, including changing international institutions and agreements to support Delta ecosystems; using U.S. federal law to find legal remedies, asserting Delta ecosystem requirements in ongoing, related management issues; establishing market mechanisms and funding sources for Delta preservation; and increasing public participation in Colorado River decisions that affect the Delta.
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