Water Conservation, Wetland Restoration and Agriculture in the Colorado River Delta, Mexico
Colorado River delta
Water Use Efficiency
Committee ChairShaw, William W
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractIn arid lands, wetland loss is the result not only of the scarcity of water itself, but of the management of water to maximize off-stream uses. Declaring a wetland as a protected natural area is not enough when its water supply is not protected as well. In a fully-diverted, over-allocated, drought-prone Colorado River ecosystem, its delta has no instream flows allocated. Water use efficiency (WUE) is touted as the panacea for water shortages and lack of instream flows. I evaluated the relationships between water use in the Mexicali Irrigation District and the water supply for the Colorado River delta wetlands. The survey applied to 521 farmers complemented the GIS analysis to create a spatial distribution of agronomic and socio-economic factors influencing farmers’ options to improve WUE in irrigation. Mexicali farmers apply 10,496 m³/ha/yr; 4% higher than the legal allotment. Still, 28% of the district’s soils are salt-affected (ECe > 8dS/m), 19% are sodic (ESP > 50%), and 39% of the salt load in irrigation water accumulates in the soils. Thus, Mexicali farmers apply more water than plants need in order to maintain the sustainability of their soils. From an agronomic perspective, increasing WUE is feasible in 80% of the valley. However, high costs and lack of technical knowledge limit farmers’ options to either continue using as much water as they do now or rent/sell their water rights to larger farming operations or urban developments. Mexicali’s agriculture provides 87 Mm³ of water to the delta marshes, and seepage from unlined canals and subsurface flows generated by irrigation contribute to sustain riparian areas. Agricultural “inefficiencies” become the main source of water for wetlands when flows are fully diverted. The Irrigation District 014 is an integral part of the delta ecosystem; this is a required change in the agriculture-wetland paradigm. The restoration of arid and over-allocated rivers requires the integration of irrigation practices and WUE with the allocation of water for instream flows. The restoration of wetlands of international watersheds like the Colorado River requires the bi-national collaboration beyond memorandums of understanding between the countries; treaties where environmental flows are actually allocated will better serve shared ecosystems.
Degree ProgramNatural Resources