Impacts of instream flows on the Colorado River Delta, Mexico : spatial vegetation change analysis and opportunities for restoration Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/h989r5796

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  • Until the 1930s, flows of the Colorado River maintained approximately 781,060 hectares of wetlands in its delta. These wetlands provided important feeding and nesting grounds for resident and migratory birds as well as spawning and protection habitat for many fish and other invertebrate species. However, the Delta's wetlands started to disappear as water was used for agricultural and urban uses in the United States and Mexico. The 1944 United States-Mexico water treaty, which allocates 1.8 million m³/year to Mexico, did not define a minimum flow to maintain the Delta's ecosystems. The resulting degraded Delta lead to the perception in the 1980s that the Delta was a dead ecosystem. This study investigates whether this "dead Delta" perception is valid. Its central hypothesis is that regenerated vegetation in riparian and flood plain zones is associated with surplus river flows during the 1990s. A vegetation analysis, using satellite imagery and field methods, shows that native trees have regenerated during the last 20 years, and now account for 23% of vegetation in a 100 km, non-perennial, stretch of river below the United States-Mexico border. A spatial trend analysis using multi-temporal data on percent vegetation cover indicates that there are 6,320 hectares that show a significant increasing trend (p-value<0.05) in vegetation cover, with the Delta's riparian zone having at least 18% of its area showing this trend. The study estimates that once in four years February to April flow of 300 million m³ (at 80-120 m³/s) is sufficient to germinate and establish new cohorts of native trees, and highlights the need for smaller but more periodic flows in order to maintain wetland areas. It is concluded that there is clear evidence of the resilience of the Delta's ecosystems and that the "dead Delta" perception is no longer valid. There exist critical habitat in the Delta that needs to be protected, while there also exist short and long term opportunities to ecologically enhance and expand current habitat. Hydrological and ecological studies are needed to estimate specific water requirements for these areas in order to efficiently target them for immediate and long term conservation actions.
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