Releasing massive amounts of the Colorado River from dams

Photo credit: Treehugger

CC BY 2.0 Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr

Why are they flooding the Grand Canyon?

by Melissa Breyer
Science / Conservation

The U.S. Department of the Interior has taken to releasing massive amounts of the Colorado River from dams, here’s why.

The Colorado River should reach the sea, that’s what it wants to do. It wants to start in the Rocky Mountains and wind its way 1,450 miles along the Arizona-California border into the Mexican delta, irrigating farmland and nourishing loads of wildlife and flora along the way before emptying itself into the Gulf of California. That’s what it did up until 1998. But then, gradually, ouch.

The mighty Colorado continues to take top honors in American Rivers’ annual rankingof America’s most endangered rivers. The conservation groups notes, “A century of water management policies and practices that have promoted wasteful water use have put the river at a critical crossroads.” Demand on the river’s water simply exceeds its supply, to the point that it no longer reaches the sea. Instead, it dribbles into nothingness somewhere in the desert of the Southwest.

As Jonathan Waterman wrote in The New York Times:

Now dozens of animal species are endangered; the culture of the native Cocopah (the People of the River) has been devastated; the fishing industry, once sustained by shrimp and other creatures that depend on a mixture of seawater and freshwater, has withered.

The river’s sad story began in 1922 with the Colorado River Compact, an agreement among seven western states to divvy up its bounty. Mexico was allotted 10 percent of the flow. Almost a century later and a study by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation finds that the entire river and its tributaries are siphoned off to meet the needs of 40 million Americans living in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. Along with hydrating 5.5 million acres of land, it also helps power much of the electricity that comes from hydro-power plants.

Did I say ouch? Ouch.

Read the full article: Treehugger

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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