Nature Conservancy magazine–The River’s Return

delta-700x450-1“When the sun peeped over the Sierra Madre,it slanted across a hundred miles of lovely desolation, a vast flat bowl of wilderness rimmed by jagged peaks,” wrote environmentalist Aldo Leopold, after canoeing the Colorado River delta in 1922. “On the map the Delta was bisected by the river, but in fact the river was nowhere and everywhere, for he could not decide which of a hundred green lagoons offered the most pleasant and least speedy path to the Gulf.”

The delta signals the terminus of the 1,450-mile Colorado River, whose broad basin encompasses seven U.S. states and two states in Mexico. Dur­ing Leopold’s time, the river’s last 87 miles splayed
across more than 3,000 square miles of flat land, fanning out into a great tangle of river channels, wetlands and pools before reaching the sea in Mexico. Historically, the river pushed miles out into the Gulf of California every spring at a rate of 1.8 million gallons per second, leaving layers of sediment 3 miles thick in places. Waves would mount high enough to upend a small boat when the ocean tides clashed with the river. The sodden land burst with cottonwoods, willows and mesquite. The river and wetlands teemed with fish. It was home and a respite for millions of birds a year, as well as jaguars, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, deer and raccoons, to name just a few species. Read more…

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