Bringing The Colorado River Back To Long-Dry Parts Of Mexico

Apr 8, 2014

For the first time in almost 20 years, the Colorado River is flowing into northern Mexico through a dam that usually stops it. It’s called a pulse flow — a temporary release of water.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Stina Sieg of KJZZ traveled to see the effect it’s having on Mexico’s long-barren delta.


Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit



For the first time in almost 20 years, the Colorado River is flowing into northern Mexico through a dam that usually stops it. It's called a pulse flow, a temporary release of water.

From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network KJZZ in Phoenix, Stina Sieg went to see the effect this is having on Mexico's long-barren delta.

STINA SIEG, BYLINE: It's a sunny day at Mexico's Morelos Dam, just outside the border town of Los Algodones. It's also a momentous day. Like always, lots of water is still being diverted, rushing into canals and toward thirsty crops and cities. But some is also continuing through the dam and into a usually barren stretch of riverbed that meanders some 70 miles to the Gulf of California. It's a quiet, slow moving stretch of water, but hundreds of people are here to cheer it on. They included Michael Connor, deputy U.S. secretary of the Interior. He says it's exciting to see.

MICHAEL CONNOR: It also gives a sense of urgency to trying to negotiate a long-term agreement and build on this success. So we're relishing the moment, but we want to build upon it in building this partnership with Mexico.

SIEG: That partnership will last for at least the next three years. So says Minute 319, an agreement signed by both countries. For the first time ever, it allows Mexico and the U.S. to share Colorado River water in shortage and in surplus. It also lets Mexico store some of its water in Nevada's Lake Mead, which helps keep the reservoir at needed levels. And a small portion of that is being released right now in one big eight-week burst. You can see its effects about 20 miles downstream from Morelos Dam on the border of the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja, California.

TAYLOR HAWES: It's actually very cool.

SIEG: Taylor Hawes with the Nature Conservancy is splashing her hand in the reawakened river. Her group is one six nonprofits in the Raise the River campaign, which has the ultimate goal of seeing the Colorado River reach the sea once more. Hawes doesn't know if that will happen during this pulse flow, but she says this particular spot hasn't seen water in 17 years.

HAWES: You would never know that because it looks like a river. It's got tons of water in it. People are hanging out on the beaches. This is not an area normally they would be hanging out, but they're coming to see the river be a river again.

SIEG: Like Maria Sanchez, who came to see the flow with her family, including two youngsters who've never seen water here.

MARIA SANCHEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

NINA TRASOFF: They asked if they could take off their shoes and - am I getting this right - if they could take off their shoes and play, and she said no, no, no, but then they just let them go in and play. And how wonderful that they can enjoy this water being down here.

SIEG: Nina Trasoff is translating. She's with the Sonoran Institute, another big player with Raise the River. A few miles away, over bumpy roads, her group is busy digging trenches to help the river reconnect near a spot called Laguna Grande. Workers are also digging holes to plant cottonwoods and willows, vital to re-establishing habitats for birds and other creatures.

This is the front line of the Colorado River's restoration, and the Sonoran Institute's Edith Santiago explains that all kinds of people come to see it. Today, it's journalists and a few public officials. Not long ago it was a troop of boy scouts. Santiago especially likes it when locals stop by.

EDITH SANTIAGO: They reconnect with the river, and then in that case they will, you know, take care of the area.

SIEG: And it's an area that benefits from the pulse flow, which ends May 18. Right now the Sonoran Institute and the rest of Raise the River are trying to generate funds to release a small amount of water into the riverbed on a continual basis. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Stina Sieg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.