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
The Rio Grande transitions from a trout haven to an irrigation supply line between South Fork and Del Norte.
County Road 17 Bridge and the Del Norte Gauge is in the middle of that section. No other gauge on the river is watched more closely than this one. Its measurements determine how much water Colorado gets to keep and how much has to be passed on to New Mexico, Texas and Mexico.
But because the obligated water for downstream users is based on annual totals, Colorado can use most of the water in the river during the peak irrigation season in spring and summer and make up the deliveries in the fall and winter.
When we floated by the Del Norte Gauge it was recording a flow of just over 1,500 cubic feet per second. In 24 hours almost a billion gallons will flow under the bridge at that rate.
At the same time, the last gauge on the Rio Grande in Colorado was recording less than 500 cfs.
It was this kind of water use more than 100 years ago that kicked off the negotiations that created the Rio Grande Compact. That agreement still governs how much water can be taken out of the river.
Now drought means less water in the river, and long-term forecasts expect that to continue. As a result, there are attempts to change the compact or enforce the use of laws like the Endangered Species Act to keep the river healthy and stop it from drying up.
We will run into those issues later on. For now, the river is still flowing fast and providing an easy ride toward the Gulf.
A ride that is so easy we had time to attend a party on a ranch just upstream from the Del Norte Gauge and meet some of the local ranchers, fishermen, climbers, skiers and boaters. These are the kind of folks who go rock climbing to fishing holes and chuckle about almost drowning while running the class V rapids in the Rio Grande Gorge in Northern New Mexico.
The one advantage to the amount of water pulled out of the river, is that by the time we get to the most difficult reaches of the gorge, there will likely be hardly enough water to float a boat, much less drown us.
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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.