Restoring the Colorado River Delta – A framework for binational cooperation in restoration science, finance, and resource management

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Peter Skidmore

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The Colorado River delta once consisted of 800,000 hectares of riverine, wetland, and estuarine habitat. This ecosystem has contracted to a fraction of its historic extent due to flow regulation and water consumption upstream. In 2012 a novel agreement between Mexico and the US provided for sharing of water under drought conditions and committed water and funding for ecological restoration. A coalition of environmental groups that facilitated negotiations partnered with the two governments to fund and implement restoration. Successful implementation has led to a successor agreement that provides additional commitments of water and funding to support expanded restoration. Remnant wetlands in the delta are part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Ramsar wetland. The Colorado River is one of the most intensively managed of 263 international rivers; it provides water for 40 million people and supports critical year-round agriculture through an extensive network of dams, reservoirs, and canals in an arid climate. A 1944 treaty provides for annual delivery of municipal and agricultural water from the US to Mexico, leaving the river with no flow through Mexico. The agreement to dedicate environmental flows to support restoration establishes a global precedent and model for other nations. While upstream water demands limit full restoration of the delta ecosystem, restoration and monitoring implemented to date, as well as creative funding and water ownership models that are driving binationally supported restoration, provide a framework for the restoration and protection of an international river corridor and estuary in a politically challenging border region.

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Audio/Video, Conference Presentation, SER2019

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Society for Ecological Restoration