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By Shandra Keesecker-Rivero
Monica Michelle Grijalva’s exuberance over the pulse flow of water through Morelos Dam along the U.S./Arizona border gushes much like scientists, officials, and ecologists expect the Colorado River to, with hopes of working to restore the Colorado River Delta in northwestern Mexico. Grijalva, founder and director of the Phoenix based Instituto del Desierto Sonorense has been extremely active in promoting awareness about the Colorado River Delta project, while supporting programs to replenish the area, including the planting of trees along parched river banks in San Luis Rio Colorado. Just one day after World Water Day, on the morning of March 23rd, Monica was front and center as the International Boundary and Water Commission opened the gates at Morelos Dam just south of Yuma, AZ and Algodones, Baja California Norte to initiate the long anticipated pulse flow.
The historic pulse flow from the Colorado River toward its delta, which once spilled into the northern Sea of Cortez, comes as part of a 2012 agreement known as Minute 319 which includes “a series of temporary measures, including a pilot program to improve infrastructure and develop projects in Mexico” (Minute 319, IBWC). The Morelos Dam itself, completed in 1950, was part of a 1944 Water Treaty between the U.S. and Mexico, diverting whatever water makes it on the path of the Colorado south from its origin in the Rocky Mountains mostly to the Mexicali Valley. As a result, since 1950, water from the Colorado River effectively ceased flowing toward the Sea of Cortez.
In addition to restoring wildlife and ecosystems along the Colorado River on the Mexican side of the border, Dr. Francisco Zamora, Director of the Sonoran Institute´s Colorado River Delta Legacy Program, yet another organization which is part of this historic effort, explains, “The restoration of the delta…is for the people, so they may have natural landscapes and enjoy their families.”
In an impromptu online interview, Monica went into further detail as to why the pulse was programmed for this time: “The Pulse Flow consists of injecting water into the river in order to revive its ecosystems. This season was chosen as it is when thousands of cottonwood and willow seeds are ready to germinate; the water flow was designed to move sand banks, and flow so seeds can germinate and grow.”
She goes on, “The pulse of water is expected to reach the Sea of Cortez within a week, and will continue for a few weeks, inducing life in the delta bed, the river bank, and restoration sites so that soon, via satellite images, we will be able to observe cottonwood and willow forests full of life in the delta. The world is watching to see the scientific results, given that having reached a binational solution for a river that has been dry for half a century is an example for the world, where more than 90% of rivers are shared between two or more countries.
Monica describes the opening of Morelos Dam for the pulse flow as, “One of the most memorable days of my life.” When asked how it felt to watch the water pulse flow through the Dam, she explained, “It was an amazing historic moment when buttons 11 & 12 were pressed to open the gates and give way to “Pulse Flow”, to inject new life into this river and enrich our habitat. I cannot express in words the joy we all felt, we rejoiced and yelled out in celebration!”
As for ongoing efforts to replenish the Colorado River Delta, Monica details, “Over the next 3 years an additional 65,000 million liters of waters will be injected into the river. The data collected from the Pulse Flow experiment will be used to document and tell the story to negotiators and decision makers of both federal governments to make additional restoration efforts. This bi-national collaboration between the US and Mexico is historic and will set new standards for the consideration of the conservation of habitats and the environment.”
Additional information and sites of interest:
National Geographic: Historic pulse flow brings water to parched Colorado River
The Nature Conservancy: Colorado River – Explaining the Delter pulse flow
Raise the River – Reconnect the Colorado