When last we met, I was waxing poetic about the memories of water in San Luis Rio Colorado:
I asked Medina, who kindly served as translator for a monolingual norteño, when San Luis had last seen water in the Rio Colorado. “1998,” he said. What struck me was how he said it without hesitation, and what that suggests about the longing for water. Without pause, he knew exactly how long the rio has been dry.
Beware the poetic instincts, there, Mr. Journalist! A member of the brain trust pointed me to data showing that there has been water in the Rio Colorado at San Luis on a number of occasions since then. This is the daily average flow since 1950, when Morelos Dam was completed:
I’ve thrown in a 365-day smoothed average to give a feel for the longer term trend.
Here’s the same data set, zoomed in to the last 30-plus years. 1983 was the year of the great El Niño that almost took out Glen Canyon Dam, the year all the dams spilled and water flowed freely to the sea. One of the Border Patrol agents I met today while I was prowling the riverside, who grew up in San Luis, Ariz., told me about fishing a big, wet river as a boy during those years:
My correspondent is definitely correct. The Rio has flowed at San Luis many times in the years since 1998. But you can also see why the late 1990s stand out in local lore and memory.
(The graphs in this post have been updated because I screwed up the metric-vs-wacky US measure conversion)