Binational Agreement Boosts Restoration Efforts in Colorado River Delta – 11.20.2012


The agreement, which takes the form of an amendment to a 1944 treaty between the two nations, also gives Mexico permission to store water for future use in Lake Mead, a federal reservoir on the Colorado River, located in northern Arizona. This provision is unprecedented.

The agreement acknowledges the importance and continuing role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in rehabilitating the sensitive delta region, and calls for scaling-up

ongoing restoration projects. The Sonoran Institute, a Westwide nonprofit conservation organization, has been actively working with partners for the past 15 years to restore vital areas of the Colorado River Delta in an effort to reconnect the river to the Upper Gulf of California. The Institute has a major field office in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico.

“This agreement is validation of the importance of our on-the-ground restoration work in the delta region, and an acknowledgement that consistent water flows are vital to the well-being of people, communities and wildlife in the region,” said Francisco Zamora, Director of the Colorado River Delta Program for the Sonoran Institute. “It represents a significant step towards achieving our conservation goals in the region, and is a huge boost to the efforts of our many conservation partners in Mexico and the U.S.”

“The restoration of the Colorado River Delta is one of the many hopeful stories that illustrate nature’s ability to recover,” said James Redford, producer of the 2012 film on the Colorado River WATERSHED. “The new agreement between the U.S. and Mexico on Colorado River water flows is a tribute to the work of the Sonoran Institute and its many partners, who have demonstrated that a small amount of water can bring life back to the Delta and to the communities in the region.”

“The situation in the Colorado River Delta is emblematic of so many of the challenges we face in protecting rivers, wetlands, and waterways across the West,” said Hans Cole of Patagonia, Inc. a key partner on Colorado River water issues and in the restoration of the Delta.  “At Patagonia and the Save the Colorado River Campaign, we’re inspired and hopeful as we imagine the possibilities of a restored Delta region – and we thank the Sonoran Institute and the greater community of partners and activists who have worked so hard to make change happen on this issue.”

“This agreement represents a breakthrough for the cooperative management of water resources on an international river,” said Peter Culp, an attorney with Squire Sanders who represented conservation interests in the binational negotiations. “It is a first step towards a real U.S. – Mexican partnership to address both human and environmental needs in the Colorado River Basin. That is a partnership that we are going to need as we face an era of increasing scarcity on the Colorado River.”

For six million years, the Colorado River flowed freely into the Upper Gulf of California – but no longer. Since the 1960s, following years of dam building in the U.S., water essentially stopped flowing into the Delta region, drying up the enormous wetland, and threatening the indigenous peoples, communities and wildlife who depended on water to survive.

The Colorado River is a superpower among rivers. It provides drinking water for more than 30 million people, irrigates 4 million acres of farmland, produces abundant hydropower, and supports a vibrant recreation industry. The Colorado River Delta is also a critical link supporting nearly 400 species of birds on their journey through the Sonoran Desert across northern Mexico, Arizona and California.

As part of the binational agreement, a coalition of NGOs including the Sonoran Institute, Pronatura Noroeste, and Environmental Defense Fund are required to secure one-third of the agreement’s total water allocation to the Delta. Through the Colorado River Delta Water Trust, an entity formed by the coalition in 2008, the organizations plan to partner with the Nature Conservancy in a fundraising campaign to secure water and accelerate on-the-ground restoration efforts.

Recent Sonoran Institute projects have included: restoring 50 acres of native habitat along the Colorado River riparian corridor (making the site one of the largest, most dense stands of cottonwood-willow forest along the river in Mexico), establishing additional marsh habitat at the Las Arenitas artificial treatment wetland, and reconnecting the river to the sea by creating a small channel in the Upper Gulf of California estuary. 

“We have been working towards this moment for many, many years. Now begins the really challenging work!” says Zamora, referring to the extensive fundraising efforts that the new agreement requires to secure water and scale up restoration efforts in the Delta.


To make a contribution to bring water and life back to the Delta or for more information about the binational agreement and the Sonoran Institute, visit:  For a tour of the Colorado River Delta and on-site interviews please contact: Francisco Zamora“>

The Sonoran Institute inspires and enables community decisions and public policies that respect the land and people of western North America. The Institute is a nonprofit organization that is working to shape the future of the West. For more information, visit