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
In the last two weeks, we have dropped almost 6,000 vertical feet and traveled about 150 miles along the Rio Grande. The remaining 7,500 feet we have to go will be spread out over some 1,700 miles.
It’s going to be a lot more paddling and walking, and a lot less floating.
To help understand the river better and pass the time, I am taking water samples every afternoon that we paddle.
The tests I’m most excited about are for E. coli. It’s the most disgusting, because when I have a positive test, it means there is poop in the water. But it is also one of the most telling indicators about how the land along the river and the river itself are being treated. A river that is used as a sewer to take away the waste of cities and industry will have a large amount of E. coli. There can be natural sources of E. coli, but nothing like what a leaking sewer pipe or feedlot can produce.
Dr. Robert Metcalf at the California State University, Sacramento developed the procedure I am using and donated the testing materials. His goal is to make water quality testing as easy and cheap as possible so drinking water supplies can be tested before they make people sick.
Polluted water is a big problem. According to the World Health Organization, 1.8 million people a year, mostly children, die from diarrheal diseases, which are most often caused by drinking polluted water.
It’s an issue lower down on the Rio Grande as feedlots and cities start to crowd the river. We will be talking with the Rio Grande International Study Center once we get to Laredo.
But so far, every test has been negative. It's not a surprise, since I have floated mostly through national forest and large ranches.
After Alamosa, there will be another couple hundred miles of mostly undisturbed river and I expect the water will stay fairly clean. But eventually the lucky streak is going to end and Erich and I are going to have to be very careful to not ingest the water. It will add a a new challenge to the paddling.
(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.