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
We paddled into Del Rio on a river where we could see turtles swimming among the rocks on the bottom. Now, 15 miles south and several discharge pipes and questionable streams later, we can no longer see the bottom. The smell of sewage comes and goes as the current mixes the water and we think twice every time we step out of the canoe.
Rumaldo Sandoval owns a ranch a few miles south of Acuña and we talked to him while he fished from the Mexican bank. The only people we saw on the river were on the Mexican side. Almost everyone returned our wave and happily talked about how they were spending their Sunday along the river.
Sandoval was fishing and taking in the view with his wife, Maria Gonzalez, and dog Osa.
He called the discharges black water. We could see where it tainted the river from a clear blue to a teabag brown. The river sediment has a thin layer of brown on top and then a thick layer of black goo.
Sandoval said he would not drink from the river, but in the summer it is a great place to swim.
And it’s much safer now. When he was a little boy, the flood of 1954 swept through the valley. He knew people who had to run uphill and wade through chest-deep water to escape the rising river. Entire communities were wiped out and had to resettle.
The flood prompted the construction of Amistad Dam, where Sandoval worked for eight years in the electric plant. He now works making parts for Jeep Wranglers and Dodge Durangos.
Now we are at the second dam, a diversion for the Maverick County Water Conservation Improvement District No. 1. It looks like it is taking about two-thirds of the river, which will be sent off to irrigate pecan orchards and farms before flowing back into the river.
In between the here and there, we will just have to make due.
The border patrol agents and dam operators we spoke with told us we will likely have to haul the canoe over rocks on several upcoming sections.
But at least we will have company.
The birds, especially the coots, are here by the thousands. Camping on an island felt like being at an airport with no traffic control. It seemed the pelicans, herons, egrets and ducks could not decide where they wanted to be and flocks were constantly landing and taking off. All through the night, we heard beavers chewing on small trees, smacking their tails and plopping into the river. Meanwhile, flocks of birds jockeyed for position in the air and on the water.
It was anything but sterile.
To comment on this post or ask a question, please visit the expedition's Facebook page.
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.