Disappearing Rio Grande

New? Start here.

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.

Read more

Why They Go to Meetings, Day 13

Light filters down in early morning above the Great Sand Dunes National Park on the east side of the San Luis Valley. Photo by: Erich Schlegel

I spent today going to a water policy meeting, where I watched farmers, ranchers and a host of federal, state and county officials wrestle with the ever-growing problem of how to reduce pumping from the aquifer.

Less pumping means fewer farms and ranches and less money for everyone.  But it is also inevitable. The current water supply from rain and snow cannot meet the demand. If a system is not set up to reduce pumping through market or social pressure, the aquifer will simply drop below the wells and everyone will lose.

It is not an easy discussion.

Erich spent the early morning flying over the valley.  His photos help explain why folks are so dedicated to figuring out a solution and not letting the system crash.

To comment on this post or ask a question, please visit the expedition's Facebook page.


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.


Jessica Lutz
Mike Kane
Project Editor
Barbara Hosler
Copy Editor
News Apps Team Lead | @rdmurphy
Google Journalism Fellow | @jessihamel
Web Designer | @been_hussln
Editor | @ATXjj