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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The Local Solution, Day 123

The Rio Grande cuts through layers of basalt and limestone that stretch far into Mexico and the United States. These same layers, and the ones buried below them, create the aquifers that communities up and down the river depend on. Photo by: Jessica Lutz

There is a new take on solving water problems along the Rio Grande.   

Instead of going through the federal governments of Mexico and the United States to make amendments to treaties or to meet with their counterparts, locals are talking to each other.  

We lucked out Sunday. We were able to paddle with hydrogeologist Allan R. Standen  and water lawyer Mike GershonThey are working for the Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District, which is attempting to bypass federal and state bureaucracy and work directly with those in Mexico who are dependent on the same aquifers.   

They argue it is in the best interest of everyone in the region to manage the groundwater based on understanding what is actually there, that is, to make models of the groundwater.  

The strong point of the argument is that if cities like Ojinaga and Presidio work together, they can implement programs much faster than if they wait for their respective federal governments to get involved.     

Standen is on a mission to create groundwater models that are accurate and easy to understand. Those models can then shape policy. He spent part of his Saturday night talking about what it would take to get data that he could use out of Mexico.   

It’s not that much of a long shot.  As the Rio Grande and Rio Conchos become less reliable, everyone is turning to groundwater.   

And just like the river, the aquifers pay no mind to the border.

That’s something only people do. 

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 8:42 a.m. 29.35221 -104.08905
#2 2:03 p.m. 29.28821 -103.91769
#3 3:28 p.m. 29.27671 -103.83694


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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