The questions that we are really interested in can be broken down into a series.
I think this just about covers it. But one of the things we're most interested in is knowing how much water the river can be expected to deliver annually to the region. Most of the water that flows down the river is of course coming from the snow pack that accumulates every winter in the Rockies. We have a historical record of flow down the Colorado but the historical record is not quite one hundred years old. When you think of climate change processes, one hundred years is truly insignificant and irrelevant. Climate change processes operate on scales of millennia to scales of tens or hundreds of millennia.
So, we would like to know how much water can you expect from the river annually, what is an average year, just a historical record representative of longer term patterns. Of course, this is important because ever since the turn of the century there have been very grand plans for the development of the Southwestern United States that have been adhered to very closely by the U.S. Government. It's again, those burgeoning cities of Los Angeles and Phoenix, which I think in about 50 years will actually merge and be one huge megalopolis.
The question, if we can answer these questions, is how should we budget our limited resources? And it doesn't matter how much water we have, it is a limiting resource because the population, the human population and the human utilization of water of course, continues to grow on the planet. So how should we budget this? How should we use the water? In Tucson, which traditionally has had a very healthy water table--you wouldn't know it to look at the city--that water table is falling dramatically and the decline is accelerating every year as the population of Tucson, which is a very nice city, but as the population continues to grow. They are now looking at the prospect of maybe in the future having to utilize Colorado water for consumption purposes.
The other question, of course, is one perhaps a bit more related directly to traditional conservation biology, although I'm not sure if 19 years is really a tradition. But what impact has river turnoff had on the northern Gulf of California? This is a major river with a very large delta. The influence that it must have had on that coastal marine ecosystem should have been significant. Now that the river is no longer flowing, what changes have been effected in the northern gulf? Again, we turn to paleontological techniques to answer all of these questions.