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.Read more
As close as I can tell, I’m halfway to the Gulf of Mexico. Ahead is the most wild and rugged reach of the river and the most urbanized.
It’s going to be an adventure. To help kick it off, I’m paddling with the most accomplished group of paddlers I have ever been a part of. The guides have more than 100 years of experience between them on the Rio Grande. The guests have first descents in China and California. The youngest member, Nick Gottlieb, is seriously contemplating paddling 240 miles through the Grand Canyon in less than 24 hours.
Our conversations on the banks of the river range from what it is like to see crocodiles pull down wildebeests in Africa and to paddling amongst the icebergs in Alaska to working the halls of Congress.
I’ve shared my observations from the Rio Grande with them and asked how they compare to what they have seen and experienced.
The general conclusion is that while the Rio Grande, like almost all other rivers, is highly altered with dams, levees and diversions, it is incredibly resilient and constantly working to restore itself.
In addition to the natural process of rivers to fill lakes with sediment and cut through barriers of any kind, the public perception of the role of rivers is changing.
“We have found there is a growing recognition, even among the winners in water allocation, that the system is broken and in the long run there are no winners," said Bob Irvin, president of American Rivers, who is along for this paddle.
Across the country and around the world, rivers are coming back after being buried in culverts or polluted to the point of toxicity. Decisions are being made to see the river as a complete system, instead of a resource to reach a specific goal, like delivering water to farm fields or removing pollution from a city.
Rivers can do these things very well, but when we focus on single goals and control, we miss out on the other benefits they can provide, such as recharging aquifers and farm fields, slowing floods and dampening droughts.
“There is always hope for rivers,” said Irvin. “Even if we have dammed them, polluted them or diverted them, the river is still there.”
We have done just about everything we can to the Rio Grande, and it is still here. It’s going to be fun to find out in what form over the next 800 miles.
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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.