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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Headed back to El Paso

Colin McDonald stands with the fourth graders of Bob Beard Elementary School. After the students drilled him for 40 minutes with questions about bugs, snakes, wolves and packing lunches, their teachers were able to get them all to stand still long enough for a photo. McDonald was amazed. Photo by: Debra Lambert

After almost two weeks of research, rest, relaxation and preparation, we are headed back to El Paso and the Rio Grande.

We had some adventures while we were back home. Erich had the most dramatic. His Toyota 4Runner, aka El Burro, did not do so well after getting its engine rebuilt. He had to make the call that it was too unreliable to take out to West Texas. We are fortunate, however, that David Lozano, who will be joining us for the next several hundred miles, had a truck he was willing to let the expedition use. 

My biggest adventure came from giving a presentation to all the fourth graders at Bob Beard Elementary in Helotes. There are about 150 of them. They had endless questions about what I ate, where and how I went to the bathroom, where was my family, why I was doing this and if I was famous or not. They also wanted a business card, an autograph, high fives and a chance to sit in the kayak. I think at least half of them got what they wanted.

I am in awe of their teachers who were able to keep them all under control. After an hour I was exhausted. Special thanks to Mrs. Lambert, who organized the event, and her class who helped me load and unload the kayak and all the gear.

A few hours after I left the school I got an email from Alan Shaji, one of the students, asking if I remembered coming to his school. Alan, I will never forget your class.

Then he asked me what is happening to the Rio Grande.

I gave him a typical adult answer about how it is complicated and there is less water and more demand. 

But Alan, the true answer is I don’t know. That is why we are headed back. I'll let you know what I learn.

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


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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