Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places of western North America
and the Pacific through science, policy, education, and environmental law.

CONTACT: Nick Cain 1-510-251-1600
David Hogan 1-619-523-1498
Pamela Hyde 1-928-606-3265
Jennifer Pitt 1-720-480-3735
More Information: Binational Declaration, Center's Colorado River Web Site

Colorado River Delta Needs More Water

Stakeholders From U.S. and Mexico Release Principles to Guide Restoration

MEXICALI, BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO - In order to restore the damaged Colorado River Delta, the area needs water. That was the central message of a historic binational conference hosted by the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), the United States Department of the Interior, and the Mexican Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT). The participants presented research on a wide range of legal and scientific issues that affect the Colorado River Delta and surrounding areas, but the heart of the matter was water.

"For the first time, researchers, policy makers and stakeholders from the United States and Mexico have come together to learn about the delta and steps already underway to protect and restore it," noted Michael Cohen, Senior Associate at the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security. "Yet this symposium is only a first step. Now that we all know the condition of the delta, we must take action to ensure that the delta's needs are met. The principles and recommendations devised by some 20 groups from Mexico and U.S. will guide us in the right direction as we begin the work of meeting these needs," continued Michael Cohen.

One Percent of River Flow Could Save Delta

"This is an important conference because water users in the U.S. and Mexico have finally acknowledged that, despite their best intentions, too much Colorado River water is being used along the way," said Ed Glenn, Professor of Soil, water, and Environmental Science at the University of Arizona. The good news according to professor Glenn: "As little as 1 percent of the river's flow might be enough to preserve key habitats."

"The symposium and treaty amendment give cause for hope," concurred David Hogan, Urban Wildlands and Rivers Program Coordinator for the Center for Biological Diversity. "But not one drop of water is legally dedicated to nature, so we look forward to working with others to strike a balance between water for agriculture, cities and the delta environment."

"This conference is a strong indicator of how committed the two governments are to seriously addressing the imperative of Delta restoration," said William Snape, Vice President for Legal Affairs at Defenders of Wildlife. But "The delta needs water now," added Lisa Force, Program Director for Living Rivers. "If we're not careful, the delta could be studied literally to death. The Mexican and U.S. governments and Colorado River water users need to commit to secured flows for the delta, as prescribed by the science already completed, while further studies proceed."

Participants at the conference pointed to the cooperation between U.S. and Mexican stakeholders as a key part of any solution: "Getting a good understanding of water and environmental laws in the U.S. and Mexico is an important ingredient to solving the problems in the delta," said Steve Glazer, Chair of the Sierra Club Colorado River Task Force.

Jennifer Pitt, Senior Analyst with Environmental Defense added that, "the international border creates a real challenge to good ecosystem management, but if the United States and Mexico can continue the dialogue started here, there is hope for the river."

River Restoration Faces a Host of Challenges

The symposium is an important first step towards delta conservation, but other activities in the U.S. may limit the effectiveness of Minute 306, as the agreement between Mexico and the U.S. to cooperate on Colorado River Delta restoration is called.

Among these challenges: The Bureau of Reclamation has recently approved the Interim Surplus Guidelines and water-banking regulations, which will markedly reduce the delta-nourishing floods that once spilled from Hoover Dam. And the U.S.-based Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program may also significantly undermine the success of the agreement.

"The state's multi-species program is a real threat to the delta because contracts under the program will tie up any water which might otherwise be available for delta conservation," stated David Hogan of Center for Biological Diversity.

"Both the U.S. and Mexican governments need to step up to the plate on delta restoration. With the principles contained in the binational declaration, we have created a framework for moving forward," summed Pam Hyde, Director of Policy for Southwest Rivers. "But the question remains: Do we have the political will to protect and restore this unique area for future generations?"


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