Minute 319

Jul 09, 2015

Here at our brewery in Fort Collins, roughly half of the water we use to make that delicious nectar we call beer comes from the Colorado River. As a critical water source for over 30 million people across seven U.S. states and Mexico, and home to eleven national parks, this incredible resource benefits a whole lot of folks! Unfortunately, much like a cold 12-pack of Fat Tire at a summer BBQ, there’s often not enough of the Colorado to go around, resulting in the river running dry long before it reaches the ocean. As a result, the once thriving and vibrant Colorado River Delta in Mexico has become an arid landscape.
While stories of water conflict and shortage seem all-too-common, there are some great examples of progress out there that keep us paddling. One such example is an agreement that was reached between the United States and Mexico called Minute 319. Along with the establishment of a bunch of strategies for the two countries to be better water-sharing neighbors, Minute 319 created a “pulse flow” to be released during the spring of 2014 – essentially a prolonged burst of water released from the river’s southernmost dam, meant to mimic the historic spring runoff events that used to refresh and nourish the Colorado Delta ecosystem. 

Reconnect: May 12, 2014, The Colorado River reconnects to the Sea for the first time in a generation (Photo courtesy of Francisco Zamora, Sonoran Institute, with aerial support from LightHawk).

New Belgium’s Director of Sustainability, Jenn Vervier, was lucky enough to witness the magic firsthand. Over the course of two days, she chased the water down the delta by land and by air, ultimately watching the river and sea come together for the first time in sixteen years! Struck by the contrast between the baked, sandy delta and bordering bright green, irrigated farmlands, Jenn pointed out, “It is impressive how quickly a river is inclined to regenerate. If we were to just do our part and get water there, Mother Nature will do the rest.” Work it, Mother Nature!

Even though the agreement was struck between two national governments, non-profit organizations have played a critical role in the process by serving as a voice for the environment. The Sonoran Institute is one such group. They’ve been working on the issue from all sorts of angles, including building public awareness campaigns, purchasing water rights to keep the river flowing in its lower stretches, and restoring native vegetation in the delta. We think they’re pretty rad, and have helped support some of their work since 2008.

The pulse flow was only a small step in restoring the long-term health of the Colorado River Delta, but it was a huge step in cooperation between the United States and Mexico, and an awesome example of the power of collaboration between public, private, and nonprofit entities. And that is indeed something we can all raise a glass to. Cheers!