Delta Fieldwork Under COVID-19

March, April, and now May of 2020 have brought many changes with the COVID-19 pandemicWe’re staying resilient throughout the Colorado River basin. Let’s learn how our staff in the Colorado River Delta are adapting to continue to care for Laguna Grandeour restoration site at the valley of Mexicali, Baja California

Celia Alvarado with cottonwood sapling, pre-coronavirus. Photo: Rabí Hernández, Sonoran Institute

What are staff in the field doing differently due to the pandemic? 

Our focus has been on keeping plants in the nursery alive for future propagation and providing irrigation in the restoration sites, which has been possible so far. 

The field staff watered the plants and trees in the nursery three times a week during April and has been doing so daily during May since the warm weather started. It is done just by two staff members that live in the community and are at walking distance from the greenhouse.


Guadalupe Fonseca, leader of field crew at Laguna Grande. Photo: Rabí Hernández, Sonoran Institute

“So far, our plants are surviving well, but the probability of stress and slow development for young trees and shrubs increases with the heat and reduces methods of watering.”
–Rocío Torres Moguel, Director, Sonoran Institute Mexico

The hydrology technician has overseen field irrigation during March, April, and May. We have filled the lagoons with water as an alternative irrigation method during this quarantine time. This is done by opening irrigation gates along the canals bringing water from the Colorado River. This is always measured and must be communicated with the canalman to make sure the allotted amount of water is taken. Luckily, this can now be done over the telephone. Areas irrigated by drip are not operational right now with limited staff. So far, our plantings are surviving well, but the probability of stress and slow development for young trees and shrubs increases with the heat and reduced methods of watering. 

Signage alerting staff to practice safety

 Our crew is also following the common precautions noted on signs posted throughout the sitefrequent hand washing, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, keeping 6 feet (or two meters) away from fellow humans, and avoiding contact with anyone if feeling sick, and only driving one person per car. 

Given that our school tours have been suspended to our Laguna Grande Interpretative Center, our environmental education team has been giving talks to high schools with Zoom. We have great videos and infographics developed with the support of donors that have been very useful for this time. This is the first time our team has given online talks. Given the new situation we are planning on preparing an on-line program to pursue our educational goals with schools from the city and communities from Baja California. 

Greenhouse, Laguna Grande

How our restoration sites have been affected? 

 With fewer staff than usual some impacts are to be expected: some of the trees in the nursery haven’t been able to be transplanted to larger containers on schedule or haven’t received regular pruning which both lead to undesired morphology, i.e. funny looking Charlie Brown specimen. 

Delaying new plant propagation for mesquite treesherbaceous shrubs means we may not have as many plants ready for our regular fall planting season. And, some of our cottonwood and willows have seen some stress due to cutbacks in irrigation.

Alfredo Zavala and José Luis Cabrera tend to the Laguna Grande Restoration Site. Photos: Rabí Hernández, Sonoran Institute

How can you help?

Taking care of plants in the nursery, safely transplanting them to the earth, maintaining monitoring and irrigating all take manpower. Supporting the Sonoran Institute with a donation will allow our field staff to continue our mission all over the Colorado River Delta, including the Laguna Grande Restoration Site. Your support can help us purchase plants that couldn’t be propagated this season to be planted later in the fall, improve drip irrigation controls, and provide jobs for field staff. Conserving water at home is another important step to help the environment and everyone in the region.

Blog Post By: Rocío Torres Moguel, director, Sonoran Institute México