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 are still in New Mexico but paddling on Texas' “project water.”
This is how water policy works out here. It makes sense if you understand the history and accept it on its own terms.
“The Project,” aka the dams of Elephant Butte and Caballo, was supposed to settle the water issues between Mexico, Texas and New Mexico back in 1916.
They did not. The current fight is on track to land before the U.S. Supreme Court. It is centered on two questions: Are the wells along the Rio Grande in New Mexico pulling so much water out of the river that Texas is not getting its share? And is the delivery point to Texas at Elephant Butte or the Texas state line?
This is as hilarious as water policy gets to me. But I’ve also spent most of the day paddling and walking across mud under a blazing sun. Everything is funny to me right now.
In Texas, groundwater is treated legally like it is not connected to surface water. You can pump as much as you can use from below your land with no regard for what that does to your neighbor’s wells or local steams. This is thanks to a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court in 1904. There are some exceptions if you are in a groundwater district, but their legal authority to actually limit pumping is still in question.
Texas is arguing that in New Mexico, the groundwater below the Rio Grande is connected to the water in the river, and the pumpers should be mindful of the impact their pumping has on their neighbors, aka Texas. But let’s not talk about the wells in Texas that draw from the same aquifer and also impact the flow of the Rio Grande.
The other crazy argument is the one New Mexico is using. The state argues the delivery point for Texas’ water is not at the state line but at Elephant Butte Dam. There is nothing in the compact that says water actually has to be delivered to Texas, just that it has to be sent through the dam. So Texas can have its water, it just does not have a right receive it.
Regardless of the political boundaries and legal theories, the river is mostly dry for the next 400 miles. The irrigation season is over. We're putting away the canoes and breaking out the walking shoes.
Laughing makes the walking easier.
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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.