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Research Networks and Large-Landscape Conservation and Restoration

The Case of the Colorado River Delta

Karl Flessa

June 2012, English

In arid regions, water transforms the land. Water diverted from riparian zones, wetlands and estuaries decreased diversity and ecosystem services on the Colorado River delta. But in the case of the delta’s Ciénega de Santa Clara, agricultural wastewater from the U.S. accidentally created and now sustains a 6,000 hectare wetland in Mexico. Diversion of this water to a U.S. desalting plant threatened conflict between U.S. water agencies and environmental groups, and between the U.S. and Mexico.

Thanks to bi-national negotiations and far-sighted individuals, both conflict and environmental damage was averted. A pre-existing bi-national research coordination network of academic and NGO scientists was able to monitor the wetland environment during a trial run of the desalting plant. University scientists, working with NGO and agency partners, can provide objective counsel to lessen the chances for conflict and universities can provide neutral ground, financial accountability and flexibility in complex environmental decision-making. Academic scientists can be effective advocates for large landscape conservation.