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Endangered Colorado: Is it Too Late to Save One of Our Greatest Rivers?

What once was a majestic river is today a saline slurry, with a salt content so high it cannot be used to water even the most hardy of garden plants. What have we done?

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What reaches the mudflats of the delta today is agricultural runoff, wastewater that has flowed over fields, seeped into desert soils high in mineral salts, and pooled in reservoirs and back channels exposed to the sun. What once was a majestic river that each year in flood flushed clean the delta, replenishing the land with silt and nutrients, is today a saline slurry, with a salt content so high it cannot be used to water even the most hardy of garden plants. Thus by the time water provided to ranchers and farmers in the upper Colorado basin for a mere $3.50 an acre-foot reaches the delta, it must be treated and desalinated before it can be placed on Mexican fields, increasing the costs a hundredfold.

To walk down a gravel road just south of the border town of San Luis Rio Colorado and watch what remains of the Colorado pass through rusted culverts, bringing not fertility but toxicity to the land, is to ask what on earth became of this stream so revered in the American imagination, and yet now so despoiled that it today reaches the ocean a river only in name.

 
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