Just add water and the Colorado river still reaches the sea

Edward P. Glenn, Karl W. Flessa, Michael J. Cohen, Pamela L. Nagler, Kirsten Rowell, Francisco Zamora-Arroyo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


A recent article in Environmental Management by All argued that flood flows in North America's Colorado River do not reach the Gulf of California because they are captured and evaporated in Laguna Salada, a below sea-level lakebed near the mouth of the river. We refute this hypothesis by showing that (1) due to its limited area, the Laguna Salada could have evaporated less than 10% of the flood flows that have occurred since 1989; (2) low flow volumes preferentially flow to the Gulf rather than Laguna Salada; (3) All's method for detecting water surface area in the Laguna Salada appears to be flawed because Landsat Thematic Mapper images of the lakebed show it to be dry when All's analyses said it was flooded; (4) direct measurements of salinity at the mouth of the river and in the Upper Gulf of California during flood flows in 1993 and 1998 confirm that flood waters reach the sea; and (5) stable oxygen isotope signatures in clam shells and fish otoliths recorded the dilution of seawater with fresh water during the 1993 and 1998 flows. Furthermore, All's conclusion that freshwater flows do not benefit the ecology of the marine zone is incorrect because the peer-reviewed literature shows that postlarval larval shrimp populations increase during floods, and the subsequent year's shrimp harvest increases. Furthermore, freshwater flows increase the nursery area for Gulf corvina (Cynoscion othonopterus), an important commercial fish that requires estuarine habitats with salinities in the range of 26-38‰ during its natal stages. Although flood flows are now much diminished compared to the pre-dam era, they are still important to the remnant wetland and riparian habitats of the Colorado River delta and to organisms in the intertidal and marine zone. Only a small fraction of the flood flows are evaporated in Laguna Salada.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2007


  • Colorado River estuary
  • Gulf of California
  • Laguna Salada
  • Tidal mixing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Pollution


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