Wetlands Ecology and Management

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 313–327 | Cite as

Restoration flows for the Colorado River estuary, México: estimates from oxygen isotopes in the bivalve mollusk Mulinia coloradoensis (Mactridae: Bivalvia)

  • Carlos E. Cintra-Buenrostro
  • Karl W. Flessa
  • David L. Dettman
Original Paper


Because of competing demands for freshwater, restoration of estuaries requires estimates of inflows to sustain key species. In this study we estimated the pre-dam salinities of the Colorado River estuary by using oxygen isotopes in subfossil shells of the bivalve mollusk Mulinia coloradoensis. Since the construction of upstream dams and water diversions, average salinity in the estuary has increased to 38 practical salinity units (psu) and the population of M. coloradoensis has decreased by ~90%. In the pre-dam estuary, specimens grew when salinity ranged from 22 to 33 psu at the mouth of the river while populations 40 km distant grew at salinities from 30 to 38 psu. The river flow needed to reduce salinities at the mouth of the river to those recorded in the most distant localities (40 km from river’s mouth) ranges from 120 to 290 m3 s−1. If these flows were sustained for a year, they would total 7–16 % of the river’s annual average historical flow (~1.8 × 1010 m3).


Bivalves Mollusks Colorado River Restoration Gulf of California Stable isotopes 



We thank Environmental Defense, NSF, and CONACyT for financial support. We also thank J. Campoy-Favela director of the Reserva de la Biósfera Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Río Colorado for assistance in our research, R. Soberanes for transportation to the study sites, G. E. Avila-Serrano, P. Liebig, K. Rowell, T. A. Taylor, M. A. Téllez-Duarte, and former students from Centro de Estudios de Almejas Muertas (CEAM) and Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, Ensenada for field assistance, D. Winter (UC Davis) and N. English for laboratory assistance. We also thank M. Ducea for lending us laboratory equipment. Data from samples analyzed by C. Rodriguez, L. F. Barra-Pantoja, K. Rowell and T. A. Taylor were used as part of this study. The present manuscript benefited from the comments of two anonymous reviewers, R. Brusca, A. Cohen and M. A. Téllez-Duarte. CCB dedicates this paper to the memory of his beloved friend A. Mestre Marechan (1974–2002). This is CEAM publication # 75 (http://www/


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carlos E. Cintra-Buenrostro
    • 1
    • 2
  • Karl W. Flessa
    • 1
  • David L. Dettman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeosciencesUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Chemistry and Environmental SciencesUniversity of Texas at BrownsvilleBrownsvilleUSA

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