The average Californian probably wouldn’t know what a pulse flow is. Thanks to a cooperative joint effort by the US and Mexico, pulse flows may have a major positive environmental impact on the entire southwest region.
Let’s start with the problem – the Colorado River is supposed to flow into the Gulf of California. Thanks to years of drought, the 1,450 mile journey has been cut short by about 100 miles. The Colorado is not alone. Other major rivers in the world are experiencing similar droughts, including the Ganges, the Nile, and the Yellow rivers.
The Colorado River Delta, which used to benefit from the presence of flowing water, has been decimated. The dry landscape, once filled with lush vegetation, now features mostly dry & prickly tamarisk shrubs. The effect on wildlife has been astronomical, even affecting migratory patterns of hundreds of species of birds. This area was once a resting location for the arduous journey across the Sonora Desert.
Here’s where pulse flows come in. Though the ground of the Colorado River Delta is dry and cracked, it’s not quite dead yet. In fact, there’s reason to believe that much of the delta could be restored with even modest renewal programs. Realizing this, Mexico and the US came together in an agreement called Minute 319, back in November of 2012. In March of 2013, work began.
Pulse flows are basically simulated flooding. They’re designed to replicate spring floods that used to occur in the region. The results, more than a year later, have been very promising. Sites of water making its way for the first time in years along the old path of the river and the beginnings of wildlife and vegetation are hinting that ecologists were correct – it’s possible to bring it back. As long as the modest funding continues, there’s a chance we could even restore the region.
What’s even more exciting is that the US and Mexico have come together on a project of the exclusive benefit of the environment. That’s a landmark in an age of tight budgets and a lack of political capital for environmental and sustainability issues. In a time of great drought like this, it’s important to celebrate when we get things right. Remember that even in times of trouble, the health of our environment is still a top priority.