Waters Will Flood Part Of Colorado River, For Just A Few Weeks | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Waters Will Flood Part Of Colorado River, For Just A Few Weeks

Play associated audio

Millions of gallons of water used to flow every day from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California. Now, the Colorado River ends at Morelos Dam on the U.S.-Mexico border. Below it, one of North America's largest wetlands is dry.

Karl Flessa, a geoscientist at the University of Arizona, began researching the damage two decades ago. Then he started asking how much water it would take to bring back some of the habitats.

That push for restoration paid off. Mexico is releasing part of its river allotment for eight weeks — the first time ever that water has been released to benefit the environment. It's called a pulse flow because it mimics a spring flood: a one-time event, before possible drought restrictions.

Wearing sunscreen and a cowboy hat, Flessa gets behind the wheel of an SUV and heads south to see how far the water has reached.

"We're chasing the river," he explains.

What was once the Colorado River is now a mile-wide riverbed filled with shrubs and salt cedar. Just as in the U.S., Mexico normally uses the water only for cities and farms.

"We're driving through an agricultural country," Flessa says. "There are some date palms here on the left. That looks like wheat over there on the right."

As co-chief scientist for the pulse flow, Flessa is coordinating dozens of other scientists studying the flow. Francisco Zamora of the Sonoran Institute wants to know how far the water goes. If it reaches the Gulf of California, fresh water and seawater can mix to nourish natural fish and shrimp hatcheries.

"Marine species will be able to then travel upstream," Zamora says. "The river will be connected again with the ocean."

Karen Schlatter, who is also with the Sonoran Institute, leads us across about 75 acres, bulldozed to remove nonnative trees. She is researching how river water might establish new native trees. Before the water arrives, cottonwoods and willows are dropping their puffy seeds.

"The idea is that with additional water, the seed will just land on the ground and sprout," Schlatter says.

More trees mean more birds. Hundreds of species use this route to migrate along the Pacific Flyway.

"How many ducks there are in the rest of North America, which is of great interest to duck hunters, depends to some extent on having places along the Pacific Flyway for them to stop and store up and drink some water," Flessa says.

Back in the SUV, Flessa is heading north to find the flow. Crossing the San Luis Bridge 25 miles south of Morelos Dam, he spots it.

"There's the river down below, and everybody's here to watch the river," Flessa says. "Look at all those cars."

People from the city of San Luis Rio Colorado, named after the river, are splashing in it as music plays. Many of the children have never seen it flowing.

"It's just tremendously gratifying. It's the highlight of my career, frankly," Flessa says. "It doesn't get any better than this."

If part of the Delta restoration takes hold, this scene could be repeated every few years.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


Fashion Designer Oscar De La Renta Dies

Oscar de la Renta died at the age of 82 on Monday. Steve Inskeep talks to Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan about the designer's legacy.

Sandwich Monday: The Primanti Bros. Pitts-burger

For this week's Sandwich Monday, we try a sandwich from the famous Primanti Bros. of Pittsburgh.

After Narrow Loss In 2012, GOP's Mia Love Finds New Strength In Utah

Mia Love is running again in Utah's 4th Congressional District after losing to Democrat Jim Matheson in 2012. Now front-runner, she could become the first black female Republican elected to Congress.

Tunisia's Emerging Tech Sector Hampered By Old Policies

When Tunisia's young people protested in 2011, they had one key demand: jobs. Now, despite new political leadership, that demand remains unmet — even in tech, the sector that offers the most promise.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.