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.Read more
In Candelaria, the easiest way to get a pack of cigarettes or a pound of sugar is to walk a mile into Mexico.
Yes, it is a felony to come back. But everyone knows when the Border Patrol agents are in town and the river is so shallow it hardly gets your feet wet.
The alternative is to drive an hour downriver to Presidio. The road is paved, but if it rains you run the risk of being stranded by the water crossings. The store in San Antonio de Bravo, Mexico, on the other hand, is a 20-minute walk.
There used to be a steel pedestrian bridge that saved people the hassle of climbing up and down the sandy river banks. It was removed in the rush to secure the borders after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Today, the path is well worn and goes right by the sign listing the federal statutes a person can be prosecuted under for crossing the river. Someone has scratched off the “un” of unlawful, so the sign reads “It is lawful for persons to enter the United States at this location.”
Abel Tellez just wants to know why federal agents have to point guns at him whenever he crosses. He is 88 years old. He was born in Candelaria and has crossed the river since he was a child to go to dances and parties. At his 85th birthday party he was proud he could still dance the night away with younger women.
When he was 14 and 15 and chasing girls, he said he and his friends would borrow a mule to wade the river. Life was all about farming with water from the river then. Horses and mules plowed the fields. Every family had its own herd of goats and maybe a milk cow.
“I still think that if we had water in the river most of the time, there would still be people that would want to farm,” he said.
But the river is dry most of the time. The fields of cotton and corn that once surrounded the town are gone. Tellez is the only one who maintains a pasture and he can only do that because he has a well.
“I just like to see them,” he said of his two cows and horses. “I like to go feed them.”
This spring a fire burned for a week through the salt cedar, leaving charred stumps and open land in its wake. It might be a chance for the grasslands to come back.
So far, though, not much has happened. The open land just makes hiding from the Border Patrol agents harder.
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As they travel, Colin and Erich are taking water samples for the following periodic water quality tests. In partnership with The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment’s Texas Stream Team Program at Texas State University, the results will be added to a public database it helps maintain for research and monitoring water quality.
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|
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.