Explorations of the Lower Colorado River, #1: Motivation & the Vaquita Marina
March 16, 2012 § 4 Comments
The Lower Colorado River’s been getting some good attention in the media lately(1, 2). And Creek Freak Josh Link and I have also recently been exploring the river and its issues, and look forward to presenting a series of posts on the topic.
It all started for me with the vaquita porpoise.
In 2005 I was a watershed coordinator tasked with addressing issues of water conservation in the Ballona Creek watershed. As odd as that may sound to people expecting a watershed coordinator to focus, on, say, the watershed itself, that’s how the grant worked. Chalk it up to Bay-Delta politics. That mandate, however, did me an eye-opening favor. For as much as I understood that most of our water was imported, I’d never bothered to consider how those far-away places were impacted by our big straws. A little self-education via Google’s search engine opened up a world of dessicated wildlands, endangered species, and amazement at how completely we lack perspective when we talk about water “demand”(1, 2).
Reading about the little vaquita marina pushed me over the edge on this topic (you’ll note that the two links above both reference the porpoise). This mysterious and tiny brackish water porpoise dwells at the mouth of the Colorado delta. I recently learned that historically, it had been seen as far up-river as Yuma, by the Quartermaster’s Station where I sat in a classroom last month.
Today there are believed to be about 200-250 of them. There is resignation among many scientists that they will simply go extinct. The front lines of the assault on their survival are gill nets used by shrimpers, the vaquita’s population has suffered as by-catch. But this is after the population would have already undergone the significant shock of habitat loss when 95% of historic freshwater inputs disappeared – that 95% that is diverted and so highly regulated for agricultural and urban water use throughout the West and to a lesser degree, Baja California and Sonora, Mexico. But it’s the fishermen who get the heat. We get off mostly scott-free, our water draws defended by government; indeed, as mentioned in a prior post, government scientists don’t necessarily even agree that the loss of flows threatens this species.
So it’s time to turn up the heat on how we use this 95%. If for no other reason than how damn cute the vaquita is.
With that in mind, I decided that my graduate design studio at Cal Poly Pomona would look at the Lower Colorado River, and we’d take some field trips to see what we could see about the issue. Josh, who’d read about the vaquita as well, and his business partner, Aron Nussbaum, enthusiastically joined me on a field trip to Yuma and Mexico. These visits will form the basis of several posts on our experience, impressions, and thoughts about the Lower Colorado River.