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 Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge is made up of 135 separate properties scattered across four counties along the banks of the Rio Grande.
The parcels cover everything from a beach on the Gulf of Mexico to limestone formations near Roma, Texas.
Established piece by piece, it is one of the most confusing refuges to visit. Of the more than 100,000 acres it manages, 40,000 are open to the public. It is not easy to know which are which. None are open to the public for boating, so all I could do was paddle by most of them.
The really confusing part comes when you look at the refuge’s mission. The goal is to establish a corridor of habitat through the valley so that animals, like the endangered ocelot, can freely roam and have a chance at surviving.
But to do this, refuge manager Bryan Winton has a lot to balance. He is keeping some agriculture going to maintain water rights. That allows him to help wetlands that were left high and dry by the levees, which were built to open up land for farming and development.
He also has to balance the protection of rare habitat with allowing people to visit so they are more inclined to support conservation.
Then there is dealing with a border fence that has cut through some refuge sites and left the impression that others are too dangerous to visit.
On top of that, SpaceX wants to build a launch pad on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, in the middle of some of the refuge’s most critical habitat.
Winton does not seem too ruffled by the tension. For the launch site to work, the area around the launch pad must stay undeveloped. Most of the land is already controlled by the refuge, but there are some inholdings that SpaceX will have to deal with.
But sending rockets into orbit from the middle of North America’s largest migratory flyway has its risks.
“It’s going to be a lot of noise, who knows what impact that is going to have on wildlife?” he said. “You can’t interview a bird and say ‘How is your hearing?’”
The long-term concern is that, after launching rockets for a couple years, technology will change and SpaceX will move on. It will leave behind an improved road and utilities, which will make developing the beach easier.
Then the refuge will be back to its original challenge of protecting the last scraps of land before the condos come.
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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.