SciSun: Checking for a Pulse   Leave a comment

Most rivers eventually flow into the ocean. It may take many detours, both natural and man-made, but as part of a healthy Hydrological Cycle (or ‘water cycle’), virtually all waters move to the ocean, where they continue to ebb and flow as part of the current, until they return to land as rain or snow and the cycle continues.


But the waters of the Colorado River – one of the largest and most powerful rivers in North America – hasn’t reached the Gulf of California in over 20 years. While the current drought affecting most of the western United States is partly to blame for this lack of water, the real reason is the further downstream the river flows, there are more and more demands and need for water while less water is available because it’s already been used upstream (almost 70 percent of Colorado River water feeds agricultural fields long before it reaches the desert); and when there are too many people who want and need too much of a limited resource, there’s not enough water to go around. Which is ironic as historically the Colorado (which isn’t named for the state; but rather the Spanish word for ‘red’, because the river water often becomes reddish in color by picking up soil) has been the basis of virtually all human development and growth in the Southwest: From ranching and agriculture to residential lawns and city parks; from lakes for fishing and boating to the fountains and swimming pools of Las Vegas; none would be possible without the Colorado. It looks like humans have used too much, of a good thing.


In an experiment to see if a portion of the wetlands and other natural environments that have been nourished and dependent upon the river could be recovered – including the river’s delta at the Gulf of California, where fresh and salt waters meet and create a unique environment providing safe homes for hundreds of thousands of birds and countless numbers of species – the United States and Mexican governments, along with the dozens of other states, public and private organizations, historical treaties, and water-rights defenders, have reached an agreement to allow small amounts of the water to flow freely from a dam near the US-Mexico border, to….well, to as far as the water can go before it’s used or run dry. This water pulse, which was released from March through mid-May, is hoped to mimic the natural annual floods that carried water and nutrients to the Gulf throughout most of it’s history. Although less than one percent of the river’s annual flow, this release of water is about 100,000 acre-feet; enough to cover 100,000 acres in one foot of water. Or one acre, under 100,000 feet of water. Comparatively, one acre is about the size of a football field; while wreckage of the Titanic is on the ocean floor at about 12,500 feet.


Slowly, life-giving water inches toward the sea. It's this guys' job to measure the quantity and speed.  Someone has to do it.

Slowly, life-giving water inches toward the sea. It’s this guys’ job to measure the quantity and speed. The other guy is the lifeguard. 

Almost unbelievably, within just a few weeks scientists were able to find tree seedlings sprouting from the now-moist ground of the Colorado Delta, which is a promising start to the possible restoration of wetlands that today are 90 percent gone. What’s most surprising, though, is a small portion of the water made it all the way to the ocean and demonstrated that with considerable planning, a little sacrifice and a lot of work, there can be enough water for us all and better lives for humans and every species – at least along the Colorado River Basin.


However, in this severe drought and with continued rapid growth, the state of California alone estimates it will need an additional one million acre-feet of water each year just to meet current needs. Of course many of the richest agricultural fields in California are in the central and northern parts of the state, areas that don’t benefit from Colorado River water but from other rivers and water resources. Resources which are also under high demand and affecting other cites, regions, and environments. But that’s another story….


Michonne Says: Marmots don’t drink much water at all. So I don’t think we were the reason the river went dry. But maybe you should ask the raccoons. They’re always splashing around making a mess. Of course bears splash around too. But it’s safer to ask the raccoons.

Posted June 8, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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