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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Restoring a Delta

Author: Guest Writer/Wednesday, February 15, 2012/Categories: Uncategorized

When John Steinbeck and his friend the wildlife biologist, Ed Ricketts, travelled through Baja California in the early 1940’s, the Colorado River still flowed to Sea of Cortez. For millennia, the waters of the river had  fed a vast marshy ecosystem of over 2 million acres that spread from the river’s mouth in Mexico back into the United States. Thousands of species of birds, small mammals, and other wildlife flourished in this estuary as an exquisite example of the life-sustaining capacity of water in a desert environment. The estuary was not unlike the famous Garden of Eden of the biblical stories.

Steinbeck took notes on his Baja travels that served as the basis for a wonderful piece of non-fiction, The Log from the Sea of Cortez. Along with Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Steinbeck’s stories on the Sea of Cortez represent an essential piece of environmental literature and required reading for anyone interested in the natural world.

Sadly, times have changed for this estuary that few knew. The once vast marches and abundant wildlife are virtually gone, replaced by weeds and salt flats. However, new efforts to reverse past abuses and restore the delta to ecological health are underway. Save the Colorado and the Sonoran Institute are two organizations that have been pursuing river restoration goals and the status of the abused delta even received recognition by the New York Times in a timely editorial on Where The River Runs Dry. 

Using a direct and practical approach, the Sonoran Institute is purchasing and retiring the “rights” for water-use and thereby allowing the water from those rights to flow freely back into dry delta landscape. Early indications show rapid vegetation recovery, particularly when young willow saplings are replanted. Estimates project that the entire delta could be restored to environmental health with $15 million of financial resources, a relatively modest sum. A video describes the situation of the delta and the objectives of Institute’s river projects:

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