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Once the crown jewel of North American wetlands, La Cienega de Santa Clara, in Northwestern Sonora, is a tenth of its original size

While physically not the most impressive of American rivers, the Colorado has become a central artery in the life of the American West. Today it is perhaps the most litigated river in the world, and all of its water has been allocated to one use or another, whether agricultural, urban, industrial, or now, environmental as well. When states in the Colorado River watershed met in 1922 to divide the river’s resources, what was supposed to be a simple formula to provide a fair share for all parties quickly became a convoluted legal mess. Over the years, the construction of several large dams — including the legendary Hoover and Glen Canyon Dams — as well as the advent of environmental awareness and subsequent regulation — have, along with all of the interstate bickering that has occurred between Compact members, changed the shape of the formula.

The Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, tucked into a bend on the Arizona side of the Colorado River, is a living botanical laboratory for the US Bureau of Reclamation

This winter, I had the pleasure of visiting a few spots along the Colorado River’s Lower Reach, which — from Las Vegas down to the Gulf of California in Mexico constitutes the Delta. Once an alluvial floodplain with a wetland the size of Rhode Island at its terminus, the Delta has been levied, diverted, and dammed beyond recognition. But the US Bureau of Reclamation and a handful of American and Mexican environmental NGOs have been working not only to preserve what is left of the critical wildfowl habitat, but to restore parts of it. Because so many cities and food production operations rely upon Colorado River water, the consensus amongst these conservationists is that it would be unrealistic to completely restore the river. But they also realize the value of having of native plants and animals in places where they once thrived.

An hour west of Blythe, California, across a stretch of desert, repair crews fix a section of line coming from a hydroelectric power plant fed by Colorado River water

Below are the links to a three part series I wrote about habitat conservation and restoration along the Lower Colorado River, on both sides of the Frontera Internacional, for Miller-McCune. In writing these, my goal was to create as comprehensive a source of information as possible about a subject as broad and difficult to tack down as can be found. I never did get into Native American populations and connected local economies, but from an environmental standpoint, I suppose it’s pretty comprehensive. Enjoy. I hope you learn something — I sure did.

Part I: Something for Everyone — Boulder City Nevada to the International Border

Part II: Just Add Water: the Colorado River Delta Resurrects — La Frontera Internacional to the Sea of Cortez

Part III: The Risky Business of Slicing the Pie — International Relations

Addendum: A few things you should know about water storage on the Colorado River