Accurate procedures that measure hydrologic variability would have great value for evaluating ecosystem impacts of upstream water use in the Colorado River Basin. Many local extractive income-based stakeholders rely directly or indirectly on ecosystem health and are adversely affected when the river does not flow. This study focuses on the impact of little or no Colorado River flow on the Mexican shrimp industry. Although there have been complaints that U.S. diversions of Colorado River flow have greatly impaired the shrimp fishery, this research demonstrates that freshwater rarely reaches the Gulf even during times of flooding, and that other factors such as overfishing may influence the instability of shrimp populations. Advanced very-high-resolution radiometer (AVHRR) satellite imagery was used to assess water volumes diverted away from the channel of the Colorado River and ultimately the Gulf of California during flooding periods. Analysis of data demonstrated that little freshwater actually reaches the Gulf even during floods because of its diversion into a large dry lake bed basin known as Laguna Salada. Fuller use of the Colorado River throughout its entire course to the sea is possible and could benefit a large cohort of users without catastrophic habitat destruction in delta ecosystems. Reconstruction of a natural earthen berm, as proposed by Ducks Unlimited, would maximize the use of floodwaters for ecosystem benefits. These findings have profound implications for local economic activities dependent on hydrologic resources in the Colorado River Delta and Upper Gulf.
Keywords: Colorado River Delta - Endangered species habitat - Remote sensing - Climate variability - Flooding - Change detection - NDVI - AVHRR