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
I spent eight hours in my kayak today paddling from Del Norte to the outskirts of Alamosa. It is a 40-mile reach and I did not have much time to spare, but I also did not have much choice. If I got out of my boat and touched the banks or bottom of the river, I would be trespassing.
In those eight hours, I ran about the same number of diversion dams. Usually built of boulders dumped into the river, these dams force the river to pool up against the head gates of irrigation canals.
Some of the dams along the Rio Grande here in the San Luis Valley have been around since the late 1800s. A few have been modernized with rebar and cement, but most seem to rely on the pile of rocks model.
All of them add a bit of excitement to paddling. Unlike natural features in a river that are somewhat predictable because of the terrain and geology around them, each of the diversion dams is as unique as the farmer, rancher or company that built it.
You never know when a random piece of rebar could be hidden by a wave, where the rest of the car frame may be or just how deep the swirling water really is. Fortunately, the dams are rarely higher than six feet, so no matter what is hidden by the whitewater, it is a very quick drop and usually there is an obvious line to take.
Today it was nice that the river was still high, which gave me a little more clearance over the riprap.
The dams and the private-property rights are the biggest hindrance for paddling this reach. But because agriculture is king and the dams have been around for more than a century, the work to make them easier for fish and people to navigate is slow.
Erich and El Burrito are back in Texas for a bit of retooling and repair and will rejoin this expedition once we cross the state line.
I was fortunate to have a local rancher allow me to camp on his land next to the river. Tonight I go to sleep listening to the herd of cows across the river and the whine of mosquitos trying to get inside my tent.
(Note: My pH and conductivity meter is broken, so the measurements for those two data points are not accurate.)
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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.