Colorado River Delta Ecosystem Blooms After Historic Water Release

Vermilion Flycatcher | Camilla Cerea/Audubon

For nearly two decades, the Colorado River failed to reach the sea. In 2014, billions of gallons of water finally flowed to its long-dry delta as part of an agreement between the United States and Mexico. Now, a new report demonstrates the success of this "pulse flow," while highlighting the need to continue these efforts to help restore the Colorado River Delta.

The Colorado River Delta was historically home to nearly 400 species of birds, and is considered a Globally Significant Important Bird Area. But without the regular flows of the Colorado River, its delta and the vital riparian and wetland habitat has dried up. The native vegetation that birds need, such as cottonwood and willow trees, depend on water for new growth, and spring floods help regenerate habitat.

Pulse flows are proven to work for birds and habitat. The pulse flow in 2014 shows that bringing water back can have an immediate impact, and provide hope for long-term benefits to birds and other wildlife. A report recently released by the International Boundary Commission (IBWC) demonstrated that native plants had germinated, and that areas where invasive species were cleared beforehand saw particularly strong impacts for native species. They also observed in increase in bird diversity and abundance, and further studies will help demonstrate if these impacts will hold.

The study highlights the need for a longer-term commitment for continued flows into this critical ecosystem. Negotiations are underway to renew the agreement, known as Minute 319, which allowed for the pulse flow. A follow-up agreement can help restore the Colorado River Delta and breathe life back into this incredible region. It’s more important than ever that we have continued cooperation between the two countries, to share water in times of drought and times of plenty, to work together on water conservation, and to restore river health.  Please take action to help encourage further flows by emailing leaders in the U.S. and Mexico.