University of Arizona / Research Coordination Network for the Colorado River Delta

Karl W. Flessa
Department of Geosciences
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721

Initiative Description and Primary Objectives 

Initiative: Understanding the coupled human-natural system that regulates water and the character of landscapes on the Colorado River Delta.

Objectives: Increasing the scientific capacity of academic institutions, agencies and NGOs to better inform decision-making regarding water allocations, especially with regard to water for semi-natural or restored ecosystems.

Key Academic Disciplines 

Disciplines: earth and environmental sciences, hydrology, restoration ecology, conservation biology, water law

Methodological approaches: field work, community-based organization, international conferences and workshops, support for students, collaboration with agencies and NGOs

Key Partner Organizations and Individuals 

Reserva de al Biósfera Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Río Colorado  (Jose Campoy)
Sonoran Institute (Francisco Zamora)
Pronatura (Osvel Hinojosa)
Environmental Defense Fund (Jennifer Pitt)
Universidad Autonoma de Baja California, Mexicali (Jorge Ramirez)
Central Arizona Project (Chuck Cullom)
Southern Nevada Water Authority (Bruce Moore)
Centro de Investigación en Alimentación y Desarrollo, (Jaqueline Garcia)
Comisión Internacional de Límites y Aguas (CILA)  (Francisco Bernal)
International Boundary and Water Commission (Gilbert Anaya)

Initiative History and Champions 

A 2001 conference on the Colorado Delta in Mexicali;
A successful proposal to the National Science Foundation;
Early champion: Karl Flessa

Distinctiveness and Strategic Significance of the Initiative 

As a network of mostly academic and NGO scientists and students, with water agencies international agencies most as observers, rather than active participants, the network as proven to be the “go-to” organization for national and bi-national efforts at environmental protection and restoration.  One distinction is its bi-national character; its strategic significance is in its ability to enlist talent for current projects and to help train students for future efforts.

Measurable Effectiveness of the Initiative 

Measures of its effectiveness lie in both typical academic metrics (number of articles and books, number and size of grants) and in delivering vital data on such issues as minimum flow requirements for riparian, wetland and estuarine habitats, monitoring during potential environmental disturbances, enumerating ecosystem services and values, and providing outreach via media.

Transferability of the Initiative 

In demonstrating the value of bi-national networks and what it takes to get them going and maintaining them, in strengthening the capacity of our Mexican colleagues in providing travel support and access to instrumentation; in training the next generation of researchers in our collaborative styles.

The Initiative’s Ability to Endure 

Yes, even after the end of direct funding, collaborations will continue and agencies are now far better aware of the research talent that can be deployed to address problems.  Our work with students ensures that there will be a next generation of scientists and scholars as well.

Engagement Strategies 

Nothing unusual here, really: conferences, workshops for students, student travel to professional meetings, keeping agencies informed by inviting them to our meetings, keeping an eye out for opportunities to publicize our activities in the media.