When I started making noises about some sort of Colorado River project, one of the water wonks I know pointed me toward the delta, arguing it was a) central to understanding the Colorado, and b) widely ignored.
The problem, in short, is that essentially no fresh water flows there any more. An ecosystem once sustained by annual flows well in excess of 10 million acre feet per year now gets bubkes. Instead, I’m drinking it. I mean that quite literally. The glass of water to the right of my computer right now. Had my community not built a series of dams and a tunnel beneath the continental divide to convey this water to my drinking glass, said water would instead have dribbled into the delta. Think dead clams.
There’s some journalistic traction to the story right now, however. The water mavens of the Lower Colorado are not satisfied with taking almost all of the water. There’s one salty stream left, some frankly really crappy agricultural runoff from the farms around Yuma, too gross to put into the Colorado, so a drain was built to funnel them into what were barren salt flats. But, as an old Italian Catholic lady I knew in South Pasadena used to say, “The life force is strong.” At the end of the drain, a lovely wetland has grown up. But the mavens want that water, too.
Which is a long way of introducing Randal Archibold’s story in today’s New York Times about the struggle over the future of Cienega de Santa Clara:
But now the protracted drought in the Southwest has led water managers to rethink the possibilities for the wastewater, placing the preservation of the wetland, the Ciénega de Santa Clara, at the center of a delicate balancing act between the growing thirst of California, Nevada and Arizona and the delta’s ecology.
The biggest challenge involves a plan to take some of the wastewater, purify it at a desalination plant and direct it to other uses under a treaty that proportions the Colorado River among the Western states and Mexico.