Adopting the Colorado River Delta
Ten years ago, during the last major flood in the Delta of the Colorado River in Mexico, three good friends took a life-changing boat trip. They had not expected to get lost overnight and be rescued the following morning by Lorenzo González, a Cucapá Indian. And they had not expected the trip to be the beginning of a long-term commitment to restoring the Delta.
But that is exactly what happened to Francisco Zamora, who leads the Sonoran Institute's work in the Delta, and his two companions, Osvel Hinojosa and Carlos Valdes, who work to restore the Delta with the Mexican conservation organization Pronatura.
The Sonoran Institute and Pronatura are major partners in the area and, together with other organizations, have set an ambitious goal to double the Delta's existing wetlands by protecting and restoring more than 160,000 acres over the next 20 years. To accomplish this, these groups are working to acquire more than 50,000 acre-feet of water for an annual base flow and 250,000 acre feet for a pulse flow every four years. They are also promoting land and water policies that will sustain restoration efforts for the long-term.
Integrating science, economics and policy reform and partnering with local groups including the indigenous Kwapa people (the Cucapá tribe in Mexico and the Cocopah in the U.S.), our systematic approach in the Delta has already produced significant accomplishments. Francisco says the most important of these are on-the-ground restoration projects, which have demonstrated that portions of the Delta wetlands can be improved and have inspired increased participation by local citizens. "They are beginning to feel that they can make a difference," he says.
With local people expressing interest in a leadership role in the restoration efforts, we created the Adopt-the-River Program. Local groups and government agencies have formally joined the program, and we are inviting other supporters, including some in the U.S., to participate more deeply in the area by adopting restoration sites. We expect many of the local Adopt-the-River groups will become long-term stewards of the Delta.
Several local groups and Mexican and U.S. government agencies have already helped in our project to restore 60 acres of riparian habitat in 11 areas along the Rio Hardy and the Colorado River. More than 5,000 native trees have been planted, and more than 1,500 people have been involved in restoring these sites.
For restoration efforts to succeed and expand, increased river flows are essential. We worked with Pronatura to establish the first water trust in Mexico, Fideicomiso de Agua, which is securing water for Delta restoration. The trust has already obtained nearly 1,300 acre-feet of water, which it will manage in perpetuity. Pronatura, AEURHYC (Ecological Association of Users of the Colorado and Hardy Rivers), and the Institute have also obtained the rights to manage more than 1,000 acres of federal land in Mexico for conservation, ensuring that the water is delivered to target restoration areas.
Working with the University of Arizona, the University of Baja California, AEURHYC and Pronatura, we are also investigating opportunities to reconnect the Colorado River with its estuary by increasing the water supply and breaking through sandbars that block incoming tides.