Leveraging environmental flows to reform water management policy: Lessons learned from the 2014 Colorado River Delta pulse flow

Eloise Kendy, Karl W. Flessa, Karen J. Schlatter, Carlos A. de la Parra, Osvel M. Hinojosa Huerta, Yamilett K. Carrillo-Guerrero, Enrique Guillen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Minute 319, a binational agreement between the United States and México, authorized environmental flows into the Colorado River Delta, including a high-profile pulse flow delivered in March through May 2014. Reforming water management policy to secure future delivery of environmental flows to the delta hinges on demonstrating the feasibility of delivering environmental water and documenting positive ecological responses of the delta's severely degraded riparian habitat. The design of the flow's hydrograph, the novel utilization of irrigation infrastructure, the preparation and subsequent maintenance of selected restoration sites, and interdisciplinary monitoring at multiple scales combined to show that ecological restoration is possible, even with extremely small water volumes compared to historical flows. The overwhelmingly positive social responses to the flow are likely as pivotal to future flows as are the biophysical responses. The pulse flow's unique binational character demanded exceptional collaboration and communication involving local, state, and federal government agencies; water managers; water users; scientists; and non-governmental organizations. The success of such a politically, operationally, and scientifically complex endeavor in the severely over-allocated Colorado River Basin bodes well for the future of environmental flows in its delta and in other water-stressed settings, worldwide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)683-694
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Engineering
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • Advocacy Coalition Framework
  • Colorado River Delta
  • Environmental flow
  • Minute 319
  • Riparian restoration
  • Water management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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