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Cinega de Santa Clara unchanged after pilot run of Yuma Desalting Plant

Mexico's Cinega de Santa Clara has not changed since the 2010-11 pilot run of the Yuma Desalting Plant, according to a new report from a University of Arizona-led binational team of researchers.

The 15,000-acre cinega, the largest wetland in the Colorado River Delta, is home to several endangered species and is a major stopover for birds migrating north and south along the Pacific Flyway. It lies within Mexico's Biosphere Reserve for the Upper Gulf of California and Colorado River delta.

The Mexican community of Ejido Johnson operates a small ecotourism business at the wetland. Birdwatchers are attracted by the birds found there, including the Yuma Clapper Rail, listed as an endangered species by the U.S. and as a threatened species in Mexico.

How running the desalting plant would affect the water quality, vegetation and birdlife of the cinega was not known. The cinega receives its water primarily from Arizona's Wellton-Mohawk irrigation district - water that is used by the desalting plant when it operates.

When the plant is running, the water it desalinates is returned to the Colorado River. The remainder, a smaller amount of saltier water, does flow to the cinega.

Some scientists predicted that having a smaller and saltier portion of water flow to the cinega would alter the ecosystem, said Karl W. Flessa, the UA geosciences professor who leads the U.S.-Mexico team of researchers that has been studying the cinega since 2006.

To ensure that the cinega would continue receiving the same amount and quality of water as before, U.S. and Mexican government agencies and non-governmental organizations from both sides of the border worked together to provide replacement water to the cinega during the May 2010 to March 2011 pilot run of the Yuma Desalting Plant.

The international agreement was added to the 1944 water treaty between the U.S. and Mexico and represents the first time that water was alloca

Contact: Mari N. Jensen
University of Arizona

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