Disappearing Rio Grande

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Why Follow the Rio Grande

by Colin McDonald | Feb. 11, 2015

The Rio Grande is disappearing. Demand for water is growing as snow packs shrink, rain patterns shift and average temperatures rise faster than they ever have in the past 11,000 years.

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Running the Racecourse, Day 30

A tourist takes an accidental dive off an inflatable kayak while running the Racecourse on the Rio Grande. Photo by: Erich Schlegel

For guides on the Rio Grande, the Racecourse provides more reliable thrills than any other route.  It is runnable almost year round and has easy access.

With the water level up and the weather warm, more than a hundred paying customers lined up for the half-day run down the class IV rapids.

Some go in rafts, others in inflatable kayaks called duckies. Erich and Jason went against all the advice they were given and ran the rapids in their open canoes.

They were warned their boats would get wrapped around the rocks or get swamped by the waves.

It did not happen.  Erich did take one short swim, but both of these guys have raced the Texas Water Safari. They have spent plenty of time in canoes. They had just as much fun as the tourists, maybe even more.

It was only 24 hours after the paddle that we learned the E. coli count in the water was getting close to exceeding the contact recreation standard. It is not a surprise. The afternoon rainstorms are coming like clockwork and flushing everything on land into the river.  Still, it is a good reminder that we are no longer running pristine waters, and should keep our mouths shut.

To comment on this post or ask a question, please visit the expedition's Facebook page.

While making his way to the Gulf of Mexico, Colin will be periodically activating a device that uses satellite technology to share his current location. Use this map to see where he traveled on this day.

Check-In Time of Check-In (CST) Latitude Longitude
#1 1:19 a.m. 36.2946 -105.77832
#2 9:23 a.m. 36.22971 -105.85651


To report on and understand the haphazard irrigation system the Rio Grande has become and the changes it is going through, Colin decided the best approach would be to travel the length of the Rio Grande by foot and small boat.

He knew it would give him a unique perspective on a river that few understand. It did require many long days of moving slowly and camping on muddy riverbanks, but Colin likes that sort of thing.

The benefit was it provided access to people who wanted to share their stories and experiences with the Rio Grande. Via Facebook and chance encounters, Colin made instant friends who opened their homes. They provided help from loaning their trucks to their cell phone contact lists to help tell the story of the Rio Grande.

The trip would not have been possible without their help, along with the dedicated assistance of David Lozano, Jason Jones and Daniel Dibona, who drove thousands of miles to get people and boats in place.


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