Wetlands of the Colorado River Delta Maintained by Agricultural Drainage Water

in HortScience
Author:
Edward P. GlennDept. of Soil, Water and Environmental Sciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85706

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The delta of the Colorado River in Mexico historically contained 780,000 ha of riparian, marsh, and gallery forest habitat. Similar to other desert river deltas, such as the Nile and Indus, the lower delta of the Colorado River has been severely affected by the upstream diversion of water for human use. However, several large marsh areas of conservation interest still occur below the agricultural fields in Mexico. They are supported by flood water, agricultural drainage water, and municipal sewage effluent, as well as by seawater in the intertidal zone. The main anthropogenic marshes are the Rio Hardy wetland, maintained by geothermal discharge and Mexicali irrigation return flows in the western delta, and Cienega de Santa Clara, maintained by local irrigation return flows and by discharge of Wellton-Mohowk Valley drainage from the United States, imported via a 80-km canal to Mexico. These wetlands provide valuable habitat to resident and migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, mammals, and endangered species, including the Yuma Clapper Rail and the Desert Pupfish. Both wetlands are currently threatened by water management actions that do not take the wetland value of agricultural drainage into consideration. If agricultural drainage water and other available waste streams were explicitly managed to support wetlands, the Colorado River detla could potentially contain 50,000 ha or more of permanent, high-quality brackish wetlands below the agricultural fields.

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