Explorations of the Colorado River #4: The Design Studio

June 15, 2012 § 2 Comments

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Done with our touring of the Colorado River (1, 2, 3) and speed-reading about its issues, my 2nd year graduate landscape architecture design studio dove into planning and design solutions for the river.  In the analysis phase, over and over, it was observed that the river ecosystem needed to regain its flooding and sediment dynamics.  And over and over, it was observed that the political, human dimension would almost certainly never allow that to happen -regardless of the ecological desert created at the river’s mouth, and regardless of the obvious and dire future of the watershed due to climate change, population growth, and accumulating pollutants (including radioactive spoils behind reservoirs ya’ll!)

Clearly designing for what humans want usually comes at an environmental cost.  The ecosystem loses!  Even when it’s billed as sustainable, it’s more likely the design is about incrementally less harm to the ecosystem.  So in this studio, designers were challenged with having the Colorado River as their Client.  How do you work to meet human needs within that mandate?  It becomes a much different conversation.  Since many students don’t wish to explore “visionary” projects (visionary of course being the polite synonym for politically impossible, er, unrealistic), the studio was structured so that students could also provide concepts that inch us toward’s the River’s restored state, accommodating more of contemporary human uses while weaning us from an unhealthy allocation system.   This combination of visionary plotting (mwaahaha) and phased steps towards rehabilitation put together make for a nice master plan.

You can read more about the studio and download most of the studio’s presentations at When the River is Client:  Design Explorations of the Lower Colorado River.  I hope you will! There’s some great ideas the students came up with.

 

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Explorations of the Lower Colorado River #3: The River in Mexico

May 8, 2012 § 12 Comments

An aerial of the Colorado River Delta Region taken during the drought of 1990. The Gulf of California is located in the bottom right, the Salton Sea in the top left. The bright green patchwork areas in the middle of the image are the Mexicali and Imperial Valleys. Between the tapestry of fields and the Sonoran Desert to the east, the dark green spot near the middle of the image is La Cienega de Santa Clara, the last remaining wetland of the Delta Region. (Image Credit: Alejandro Hinojosa)

Upon crossing the border threshold on foot at Los Algodones, we were met by the smiling faces of Osvel, Juliana and Isobet, the dedicated staff of Pronatura Noroeste. Our guides would prove to be among the most generous, hospitable people we have encountered in our travels. While absorbing the unfolding story of a lost river waiting to be found once again, we were simultaneously pulled headfirst into the ramifications of what we heard. Revelatory moments are scarce in an age of excessive information and we took care in absorbing a dose of pure, unadulterated perspective. At the end of the day, every blade of turf, every kidney-shaped swimming pool, every rinsed-off sidewalk, every broken sprinkler head, every drop of discarded greywater would forever hold new significance… « Read the rest of this entry »

Explorations of the Lower Colorado River #2: the River in Yuma

March 30, 2012 § 14 Comments

DWP-Driving while photographing. Looking upstream from Penitentiary Road.

I found myself in Yuma, AZ, looking down the banks of the Colorado River from the old Quartermaster’s Depot, a complex of old adobe and more recently constructed buildings with a bright green lawn in its large central court.  After a long drive through the California desert, the lawn was a little surreal, but not nearly as much as the sight of an irrigation canal I’d seen, flowing at full-tilt, through a nearby residential neighborhood.  It almost looked like any number of our flood control channelized waterways at mega-flood stage – except the sun was shining brightly upon us.  And like the flood channels, the irrigation canal was flanked by an access road and a bike path, although it was lacking the requisite chain link fence that Los Angeles liability lawyers would have no doubt imposed on the canal, as that baby was pumping.  And yet, even with tidy single-family dwellings dotting the street, it seemed barren, lonely.  The streets were absent people – pedestrians, children playing, bicyclists.  It was 70˚F outside.

Standing there, on the banks near a defunct stream gage, the dissonance between the earthtones of the desert, the hard greys and greens of asphalt and concrete and cars and lawn and monocultured lettuce fields, of industrial development’s footprint on the land and on this withered anemic river, whose water seemed almost still, made me a little dizzy.

But, unbeknownst to me, I was fighting a bacterial blood infection (and then some), so if my impressions seem fevered and lurid, well, it may have just been me – or Proteus OX-19.

But back to the river, and the Quartermaster’s Depot.

This, along with an old jail, are two of the oldest buildings in Yuma, on high ground, looking over the Colorado River. The Quartermaster’s is where mules were kept, hauling goods out of the steamers coming up from the Sea of Cortez (aka Gulf of California).

Is the visual of a steamship coming up this channel playing tricks with your mind?  « Read the rest of this entry »

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). « Read the rest of this entry »

Happy surprises for Thanksgiving day

November 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

A year ago, my Thanksgiving post was a tribute of sorts to an endangered species, the Vaquita marina, and a reflection on our consumption of water – an important cause of distress for this brackish-water dwelling, small porpoise:

I can tell you now, I thought that the tribute was an elegy to a dying species, the pitch for water conservation quite possibly a lost cause.  But I needed to learn more, to see this in person – even if that meant dragging out the melancholy. And so, I teamed with Josh Link on a series, Explorations of the Lower Colorado River – a humbling and amazing trip in which we saw how a people’s love for a land, commitment to all species, and creativity and capability was being rewarded, poco a poco, with adjustments and agreements and funding and projects that kept some habitat on life support.  But what was really needed was water for the river, for the delta.

This week, the hard work of these environmentalists in the Mexico and US border region has been rewarded:  a landmark pact between the two nations recognizing the delta’s need for water, and other measures.  It is a five-year treaty, so the flows are not secure. But it is an incredible beginning.

Today’s Thanksgiving celebrates an newfound abundance for a long-withered waterway, a lifeline and hope.

Congratulations, to all involved.

In the news:

National Geographic: A historic binational agreement gives new life to the Colorado River Delta

LA Times:  U.S. Mexico reach pact on Colorado River water sale

Huffington Post: An historic step towards saving the Colorado River and Delta

You can also see photos and news about the delta at the Save the Colorado River Delta Facebook page.  They’ve also posted video of Mexico’s Director General of the National Water Commission talking about the pact.

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