Nearly 20 years ago, Francisco Zamora, a freshly minted PhD, set out in a small boat with his scientist friends to explore the Colorado River Delta. Heavy El Niño rains in the Colorado River Basin that year flooded the region with water, one of the few times in nearly half a century. The dry delta was temporarily transformed into vibrant, green lagoons. The revived flows made navigation difficult and the team spent a night in the boat, lost, but surrounded by water, birds and wildlife. It was during this trip, and the following years as the water disappeared, that Francisco came to realize the resilience of the Delta. He saw cottonwoods and willows returning to deforested areas even though the flood waters had receded.
He realized that periodic and even small deliveries of water could revive this dying ecosystem. From these observations, he developed an ambitious vision and a life-long goal: to renew, restore, and reconnect the Colorado River Delta. Francisco joined the Sonoran Institute in 2002 to lead our work in the Colorado River Delta. Since then, our efforts have grown from small-scale pilot projects to restoration of the largest cottonwood-willow forest along the Colorado River in Mexico, and increasing connectivity between the river and the sea.
Last week, our efforts to restore the Delta took another momentous leap forward with the signing of Minute 323, the new binational water sharing agreement between the US and Mexico. The nine-year agreement ensures a more secure water future for Colorado River water users across the basin and supports continued restoration of the Colorado River Delta.
Minute 323 comes on the heels of historic achievements in response to a prior binational agreement, Minute 319, which included the 2014 pulse flow that reconnected the Colorado River to the sea. Under Minute 319, Sonoran Institute partnered with Raise the River (a coalition of US and Mexico environmental groups dedicated to restoring the Delta) to achieve the following:
- Sonoran Institute restored over 700 of the 1,000 total acres of restored riparian habitat along the Colorado River in Mexico.
- Sonoran Institute planted over 200,000 of the 230,000 total native cottonwoods and willow trees in restoration sites.
- Sonoran Institute engaged thousands of local residents, school children, and volunteers from around the world in on-site restoration work and environmental education programs.
- Sonoran Institute created more than a quarter of the 140 jobs for local community members in a region where full-time employment is hard to find.
We did this all with your unwavering support. Thank you!
With the new agreement, Sonoran Institute and Raise the River have set ambitious goals for the next five years to more than double the amount of restored riparian habitat in the Colorado River Delta and enrich existing habitat. Minute 323 expands the scope of restoration beyond the river channel to embrace innovative restoration work Sonoran Institute is leading in the Delta’s estuary and surrounding wetlands. Therefore, so too must our efforts double, as Sonoran Institute will continue to be a leader in reviving diverse ecosystems in the Delta.
In collaboration with partners, we expect to restore an additional 1,300 acres of habitat in the next five years by creating a network of restoration sites that will extend beyond our work in the Colorado River corridor to include the river’s tributaries, its estuary, and other Delta wetlands. As part of this effort, we plan to deliver 70,000 acre-feet (22.8 billion gallons) of water for restoration.
These five-year goals reflect an initial commitment to successfully implement Minute 323. With the help of scientists from both countries, we will continue to assess the impact of our work, systematically review our progress, and make necessary adjustments. Five years from now, we will conduct a significant assessment of our work in order to inform new restoration and water delivery goals for the next five years.
Starting in 2018, we will roll out an ambitious fundraising strategy to meet these goals. In the meantime, we invite you to join us in celebrating this momentous occasion and know that your support played a huge role in making this possible.
Blog Post By: Stephanie Sklar, Sonoran Institute
Stephanie Sklar is the Chief Executive Officer of the Sonoran Institute.