Reconciling the Colorado River Delta

Emily Peffer

Abstract: The Colorado River Delta (“Delta”) has experienced dramatic change over the past century. What was once a vast expanse of wetlands is now largely a desiccated landscape, with only 10% of the original wetlands remaining. Virtually every drop of water in the Colorado River is used before it reaches the Delta, and in all but the wettest years, the river no longer reaches the sea. The dewatering of the Delta has had dramatic impacts on the wildlife and the native people who depend on the Delta ecosystems. In recent years, restoration efforts have begun to reverse some of this degradation. The primary objective of most restoration efforts is to secure more water for Delta ecosystems—without water, successfully restoring sustainable populations of native plants and wildlife is unlikely or impossible. Some small, but major steps have been taken by the federal governments of Mexico and the United States and environmental groups to begin to return water to the Delta and to re-establish some of its native habitats. The increasing spirit of cooperation among government entities and the growing acknowledgement of the importance of the Delta’s ecosystems is a trend that shows promise for improving conditions in the Delta, especially in the face of climate uncertainty.