CURE's Work on Colorado River Issues
CURE's Deer Creek campaign required allying with other public interest organizations like Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation. While helping CURE on Deer Creek, these organizations asked if CURE would help them on Colorado River environmental issues.
CURE wound up spending the next decade working on Colorado River-related water management issues. Its primary focus was documenting and challenging decisions that ignore the true consequences of the planned Imperial Valley to San Diego water transfers. In a variety of public and judicial arenas, CURE argued that the water transfers will cause a significant decline in regional agriculture and cause the Salton Sea to recede and dry up, inevitably producing increased air pollution and respiratory illnesses due to more frequent dust storms and toxic particle emissions from the exposed Salton Sea lakebed. All of these consequences, CURE asserted, are also bound to negatively affect the region's economy, especially Coachella Valley's multi-million dollar tourist industry.
Like many watersheds around the world, the Colorado River watershed is shared by two sovereign nations with conflicting values and priorities. Since a 1944 Treaty, approximately 90% of the river has been used by seven western U.S. states, with the remaining 10% allocated to Mexico. As a consequence, whatever actions taken in the U.S. affecting the flow of the Colorado River have environmental and human consequences in the Mexican portion of the Lower Colorado Basin.
Working on the Colorado River was an easy decision for CURE because it brought Malissa McKeith back to the Mexican border where she had worked on public health issues early in her career. In the early 2000s, Defenders of Wildlife were filing lawsuits to promote restoration of the Colorado River Delta and CURE agreed to help. The Delta was once described by naturalist Aldo Leopold as "a milk and honey wilderness" and the place of "a hundred green lagoons." In the 1920s, when Leopold was writing about it, the Delta stretched over nearly 3,000 square miles; by the end of the century, it had shrunk by nearly 90%.
While Defenders and other environmental organizations were litigating, CURE used its contacts to convene a bi-national, multidisciplinary team that met over several months to discuss and propose possible solutions. Environmental attorneys, hydrologists, water experts and water officials from both sides of the border evaluated politically feasible options for transferring water to the Delta in order to facilitate efforts to salvage the Delta's dying ecosystem and restore important wildlife habitat.
In May 2001, the team's efforts culminated in publication of a report entitled, Immediate Options for Augmenting Water Flows to the Colorado River in Mexico. Several months later, CURE took part in an international conference in Mexicali, called the U.S.-Mexico Colorado River Delta Symposium, involving concerned government officials, scientists, environmentalists, and non-governmental organizations. The conference aimed to educate participants about Delta-related legal issues and to begin identifying the water needs of the Delta's precious remaining ecosystem. Unfortunately, the symposium was scheduled to begin on the morning of September 11, 2001, and that day's fateful events disrupted bi-national progress on the Delta. In fact, not until 2012 was a deal on the Delta finally reached which was largely patterned on CURE's original 2001 proposal.