Raise the River-Reconnect the Colorado River

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A discussion about Raise the River, an effort among non-profit organizations, government agencies, and community groups to raise money to reconnect the Colorado river to its delta in Mexico. Executive Director for the Instituto del Desierto Sonorense and Consultant for The Redford Center, Monica Michelle Grijalva, talks about this effort.

José Cárdenas: Thank you for joining us. The U.S. and Mexico signed a historic five-year agreement in November that improves management of the Colorado River giving both countries flexibility to responds to the challenges of drought and need for water. The Raise the River campaign is an effort to raise money to reconnect the Colorado River to its Delta in Mexico. We'll talk about the efforts in a moment. First here's a short clip from the film "Watershed". It tells the story of threats to the Colorado River and solutions for the future of the American west.

Robert Redford: It is said that nothing defines a region more than a body of water. This is particularly true in the American west. The Colorado River and the tributaries that make up her basin shape the spirit of her settlers. El Rio Colorado, the river colored red from the land she flows through, made this dry land not only livable but irresistible to settlement. Even still her famed early explorer John Wesley Powell warned that combining arid land and civilization would eventually lead to a crisis. As the Wild West was tamed, so were the waters of the Colorado River basin. The relentless march toward progress led to the 1922 Colorado River Compact and other agreements among 7 American and 2 Mexican states to divvy up the water. It transformed one of the world's wildest rivers, capable of creating grand canyons and inland seas, into the most dammed, dibbed and diverted river basin in the world: a machine supporting the needs of 30 million people. Agriculture, industry, urban growth, mining, energy production claw for their share, so much so that the mighty Colorado River of today rarely if ever reaches her Delta in the gulf of California. With populations in the region expected to reach 50 million by 2050, temperatures rising and precipitation patterns becoming more erratic, demand will outpace supply unless we embrace a new water ethic. One that questions not only how we use water but how it affects the world around us, across the Colorado River basin from a fly-fishing guide in Rocky Mountain National Park to the river's Delta, a rancher in Colorado to a bike messenger in Los Angeles, a mayor in mining country to a Navajo County commissioner. There are those not only asking the questions but acting on them daily.

José Cárdenas: Joining me now to talk about this effort is Monica Michelle Grijalva: , executive director for the Instituto Del Desierto Sonorense. She's also a consultant and the for the Redford center. Welcome to Horizonte.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: Thank you.

José Cárdenas: A familiar voice that we heard there, Robert Redford's voice, and we just mentioned the Redford center is involved. In what way? Why is he doing this?

Monica Michelle Grijalva: Well in 2012 they started producing this film called watershed and I think they fell in love with the possibility --

José Cárdenas: They meaning Robert Redford and his son?

Monica Michelle Grijalva: Jamie Redford, yes. He views film as to be used for social change. That's why they fell in love with "Watershed" and the issues of the Colorado River. And, of course, Mr. Redford has always been a conservationist and environmentalist. This is very close to his heart.

José Cárdenas: Let's talk about the issues. They were touched upon briefly in the video, but how does this come about? I understand there was an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico. What did that lead to?

Monica Michelle Grijalva: I think different things are perfectly aligned to make this possibility of one of the most ambitious restoration efforts of our time to be possible. There's this treaty, which is a historic agreement because it actually awards water rights to the river, which has never been done in the U.S. or Mexico before. Then we have these nonprofit organizations like Sonoran Institute from Tucson and Pro Natura in Mexico that have, for the last two decades, actually been doing restoration work in this Delta area of the Colorado River. Then we have these test sites that have been done where we can see the resiliency. We have science behind it making this very, very possible. Now we're looking to align the other piece of the community. How can the rest of us come together to make this restoration effort possible?

José Cárdenas: How are you going to do that? First it's money. Let's talk about the amount of money you're trying to raise.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: We're trying to raise $10 million. It's going to be used for a combination of two things: The actual restoration work that needs to be done in that area, which includes reforestation, people on the ground need machines, they need trees, they need all this stuff to do the reforestation and the preparation for the water rights take that will be purchased and to be flowing to restore that base flow to restore the Colorado River.

José Cárdenas: As I understand you're trying to do this all in a very compressed amount of time.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: We're trying to do this over the course of the next three to five years to take advantage of the possibility that when a new treaty is signed we can renegotiate and have further water rights assigned to the Colorado River.

José Cárdenas: Let's talk about what's going on with the river. We saw some pictures showing it doesn't get to the Delta. But the fact is some water gets to Mexico, it just doesn't get there as part of the river. Is that right?

Monica Michelle Grijalva: Exactly. Mexico has a certain amount of water per the treaty exactly. It all reaches the Morelos - "la presa Morelos"

José Cárdenas: The dam.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: The dam. Thank you very much, I'm thinking in Spanish. Every drop gets to the dam and then it's distributed to agriculture, to industry, to the cities. It goes all the way to Tijuana. The water we are allotted for the agreement does reach Mexico, but it doesn't go into the Colorado River. It is once it reaches Mexico the river is completely dry. So it no longer reaches the sea of Cortez. It no long has that natural flow to the sea.

José Cárdenas: So is it just a Mexican problem then? If that's where it stops going into the river, why is the U.S. involved?

Monica Michelle Grijalva: Just for you to get an idea of what this bioregion means, Jacques Cousteau used to call this Delta "the world's aquarium." It was that perfect combination of water from the river and water from the sea that created this very unique biodiversity that can be found nowhere else in the world. That affects every citizen of the world. Also there are certain environmental effects to the fact that the water no longer flows. Just like if a glacier is melting too fast it affects us down here, the water has a natural flow to the river so there are issues that are going to affect us eventually in Arizona to the seven states that drink water from the Colorado River.

José Cárdenas: Does it mean we have to cut back on the amount of wear we use from the Colorado River? Phoenix use about two fifths of the water.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: Yes.

José Cárdenas: To make this work are we going to have to go on water rationing?

Monica Michelle Grijalva: That's one of the risks. If we don't start using it efficiently it's the risk. I know there's different projects such as CAP that have been able to create --

José Cárdenas: Central Arizona project.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: They have been very smart about having reserves but eventually the whole Colorado River can be dry.

José Cárdenas: So tell us about the efforts that are under way to raise the funds. I know there's a very special event coming up in September.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: On September 7, we're doing a fund-raiser. We're doing a combination of ticket sales, we're having a lovely auction with art pieces from all over the world, and we also have different sponsorship opportunities for the event. The event is designed in a way not only is Mr. Redford going to be present along with dignitaries from the U.S. and Mexico but even the menu is designed to be a low water usage menu.

José Cárdenas: We have a website address on the board. People can go there to get more information.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: They can go on there and get more information. Our number will be on there so you can learn how to purchase tickets, or maybe you can't purchase a ticket but want to text to donate $10. It all builds up.

José Cárdenas: There are a number of nonprofits involved in this effort. One is the Terra foundation?

Monica Michelle Grijalva: Yes. This is a very, very unique opportunity where every single dollar raised on September 7 will be matched by the Terra foundation.

José Cárdenas: What other things are you doing? There's a lot of education that goes with this. You're very involved in that. How are you doing that?

Monica Michelle Grijalva: Well, I think part of it is the decisions that we make daily regarding water. We're building different pieces. From the water songs that can be used when you take a shower that are three minutes long so you automatically are tuned into a shorter shower. Anywhere from that to every single decision that we make -- for example in recycling our jeans. How many gallons of water does it take to produce a pair of jeans? Can we go to a local Goodwill or somewhere and buy them versus buying new ones?

José Cárdenas: A lot of use of social media.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: We're very big on social media. The response and the interest we have had over the course of two days over 700 people signed up for our Facebook page.

José Cárdenas: Good luck on your efforts. Thank you for joining us on Horizonte to discuss this very important issue.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: Thank you for having me.

Monica Michelle Grijalva:Executive Director, Instituto del Desierto Sonorense & Consultant, The Redford Center;

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