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Imperial Dam

Until the early 20th century the Colorado River ran free from its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado southwest into Mexico, where it flowed into the Gulf of California, Significant quantities of nourishing silt from throughout the Colorado River Basin were carried downstream, creating the vast Colorado River Delta. Prior to the construction of major dams along its route, the Colorado River fed one of the largest desert estuaries in the world. Spread across the northernmost end of the Gulf of California, the Colorado River delta’s vast riparian, freshwater, brackish, and tidal wetlands once covered almost two Million acres and supported a large population of plant, bird, and marine life. Because most of the river’s flow reached the delta at that time, its freshwater, silt, and nutrients helped created and sustain a complex system of wetlands that provided feeding and nesting grounds for birds, and spawning habitat for fish and marine mammals. In contrast to the surrounding Sonoran Desert, the Colorado River delta’s abundance was striking so says wikipedia.org/wiki/Colorado_River_Delta .

Lake Havasu
Parker Dam

When Parker Dam was built in 1938, the valley slowly began to fill and initially Lake Havasu was once a segment of the mighty Colorado River. As the Lake has grown to 45 miles, in 1964, Lake Havasu City Incorporated and today it has a population for over 50,000 residents. The main business drive, through town and across the London Bridge to the Island paradise of shops, restaurants, bars is McCulloch Drive, named after an oil tycoon who in the late 1950’s spotted from the air the perfect place to test his motor boats and engines. In 1964, Robert P. McCulloch purchased 26 square miles of property in western Arizona (at a cost of $73.47 per acre it was the largest single tract of land ever sold in Arizona. At the time, there were no buildings or paved roads in the area. But the land was all along the Colorado River, just hours from Southern California, Las Vegas and Phoenix, making Lake Havasu City, a prime vacation, second homes and retirement destination for boating, golfing, off-roading and sun-loving enthusiasts. Lake Havasu has been the Arizona home of the “ London Bridge” since 1971 when McCulloch bought the bridge, had it shipped to America and then reconstructed it over the man made channel separating the island and the main land of Lake Havasu City.
London Bridge

Laguna Dam flow

The basin dams store more than 3 Billion cubic feet of water, which is about four times the Colorado River’s average annual runoff. The largest, HOOVER DAM, was completed in 1936, it is the border between Nevada and Arizona. GLEN CANYON DAM is the second largest, built in 1964 in north-central Arizona. These two dams provide about 80 percent of the entire water-storage capacity in the basin. The Moralos Diversion Dam, located on the Mexico–Arizona border, is the southernmost dam on the Colorado River. It sends nearly all of the remaining water to irrigation canals in the Mexicali Valley and to the Mexican towns of Mexicali and Tijuana.
Morelos Diversion Dam Canal in Northern Mexico
As a result, the river rarely reaches the Gulf of California, normally the river’s mouth. Consequently, the vast wetlands at the mouth of the Colorado River have been reduced to just a fraction of their former size, vegetation and wildlife have been affected. Before the construction of all these dams, the Colorado flowed 80 miles through Mexico to the Gulf of California.

The Colorado River was the first to employ a multi-purpose dam system during the 20th Century. These dams were primarily to generate electricity, control floods, and provide recreational opportunities. They also stored water during wet times for use during the dry months or dry year Hydroelectric generation from water stored at dam sites along the Colorado River totals about 12 billion kilowatt-hours per year, which is roughly equivalent to one-sixth of the electricity consumed in Arizona each year. This power is shared among several western states. CAP uses gravity feed to generate hydro-electricity. “THE STRIP” LAS VEGAS puts on the dog every nite …
The dams of the Colorado River are used to control runoff and to develop flood-prone lands along the lower river. Some of the reservoirs created by dams have become national recreational areas against
fantastic southwest landscapes. Lake Mead National Recreation Area as one example, is Lake Mead, formed by Hoover Dam, and Lake Mohave, formed by Davis Dam, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area includes Lake Powell.
The Imperial Dam, about 18 miles northeast of Yuma, Az diverts water into the All-American Canal, which goes west of Calexico, Ca before going north into the Imperial Valley. Six smaller canals branch off the All American Canal distributing water into the Imperial Valley. The canal systems can irrigate over 600,000 acres of good crop land and has greatly increased crop yield.
It is the largest irrigation canal in the world, carrying a maximum of 26,155 cubic feet per second.
The Colorado River’s ability to generate hydroelectric power has been very successful. More than 20 dams have been built on the Colorado and its tributaries, As a result, the river rarely reaches the Gulf of California. The Morelos Diversion Dam, located on the Mexico-Arizona border is the southernmost dam on the Colorado. It sends all of the remaining water to irrigation canals in the Mexicali Valley and to the towns of Mexicali and Tijuana.

Mexicalli Valley is one of Mexico’s Bread basket and this is the area affected by the Earthquake in 2010.

Picking lettuce in Northern Mexico east of Mexicalli

salt in hand

SALINITY is a water quality problem of growing importance within the Colorado River. The amount of solids or salts comes naturally from runoff over rocks and soils. When river water is used for irrigation, some salts evaporate, and become concentrated in the remaining water that returns to the river. The salt problem is also caused by evaporation from reservoir surfaces and water use by plants along the river. The concentration of salt in the water of the lower river valley is so high that it cannot be used for human consumption without treatment. As a result, U.S. desalinization plant in YUMA removes salt from the river and allows the United States to provide Mexico with usable water.
Because the river carries an estimated 9 million tons of salts annually water quality problems occur in the Colorado River Basin. The salinity is expected to increase in the future because of increased human use, even worse, the lower Colorado River contains about 2,000 pounds of salts per acre-foot.

In 2010 April 4 an earthquake on the Mexico Border buckled canals and destroyed pipelines in a broad agricultural area south of Mexicali irrigated by water diverted from the Colorado River at the Morelos Dam south of Yuma, Az. Because of the quake damage Mexico can not deliver the water to their farms. Roughly one-third of the Mexicali Valley suffered damage to its water infrastructure.
Under a 1944 treaty, Mexico receives 1.5 million acre-feet of water a year from the Colorado River. California can draw 4.4 million acre feet, Arizona gets 2.8 million acre feet, and Nevada’s share is 300,000 acre-feet. Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, also get shares of under the Colorado River Compact of 1922. Because of the quake damage in Norther Mexico and its’ inability to distribute it’s CAP allotment MEXICO has begun talks to store their share at Lake Mead until their Northern Mexico canals and farms can be repaired.

irrigation pushes back the
dunes and makes way for green fields

An acre-foot is enough to supply two average Las Vegas area homes for a year. Each 100,000 acre-feet of water adds about one foot to Lake Mead, and a single foot is crucial as the lake level drops closer to a shortage declaration. At 1,075 feet, Nevada and Arizona will be forced to reduce their combined water use by 400,000 acre-feet a year. Nevada’s share of those shortages would start at 13,000 acre-feet, increase to 17,000 acre-feet, and then reach 20,000 acre-feet as Lake Mead continues to drop.
LAKE MEAD’S floating docks became essential as the water levels continue to drop

In exchange for helping now and future Colorado River Water if Mexico begins harvesting drinking water from the sea some day, both sides of the border have expressed interest in U.S. investment in Mexican desalination plants along the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of California. Jointly funded plants would supply drinking water to growing coastal communities south of the border and thirsty U.S. cities, including Las Vegas. Mexico might become the only game in town for the seven Western states that share the drought-stricken Colorado River. if Mexican officials built a desalination plant for the growing city of Rosarito, south of Tijuana, the Southern Nevada Water Authority might buy a piece of that plant in exchange for a portion of Mexico’s allocation of Colorado River water. Thirsty cities, like Phoenix and Los Angeles could make similar arrangements. This paradigm works only if the Colorado River has water to exchange. If there’s nothing in the river, there’s nothing to swap Mexico .



Yuma Sunset

May 02, 2013 – A new NASA airborne mission has created the first maps of the entire snow pack of two major mountain watersheds in California and Colorado, producing the most accurate measurements to date of how much water they hold. The data from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory mission will be used to estimate how much water will flow out of the basins when the snow melts. The data-gathering technology could improve water management for 1.5 billion people worldwide who rely on snow melt for their water supply.


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  1. Pingback: $20 for a Round-Trip Ride to the Salt River from Salt River Bus ($50 Value) » Get your daily Groupon deals

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