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Rio Grande
New Mexico, Texas

Rio Grande: In High Demand


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Map the the Rio Grande River

Will Rogers once described the Rio Grande as “the just river I understand of that is in require of irrigating,” a prescient monitoring considering how fragmentized this fabled river has actually become. At practically 1,900 miles, the Rio Grande is runner-up only to the an unified Missouri-Mississippi system in size within the continental U.S. Or it would certainly be, if it still flowed the length of its channel.

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From its headwaters in the mountain Juan variety of the Colorado Rockies to the Gulf the Mexico at Brownsville, Texas, the Rio Grande draws indigenous 11 percent that the continent US, with much of the being drought-prone land. That vulnerability is compounded through scores of dams and irrigation diversions, which has left far-ranging portions the the river dry in current years. In 2001 the river failed to with the Gulf the Mexico because that the first time. In 2002, it occurred again.


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Yet segments of the Rio Grande remain amongst the most spectacular in America, including two designated national Wild & Scenic river stretches, a pair of national Monuments, and also a national Park. ~ wending its means through few of the height trout waters in southerly Colorado, the Rio Grande tumbles right into a cavity that sheer-walled canyons sculpted from the volcanic absent of brand-new Mexico’s Taos Pueblo.

The crate canyons the the Rio Grande del Norte nationwide Monument, committed in 2013, market dramatic wilderness and important bird sanctuary neighboring some that the finest whitewater in the West for skilled paddlers, establishing an out recreational mecca the extends downstream along 74 miles of Wild & Scenic river.

It’s a hard 600 miles in between rapids until the flow reaches its reduced Wild & Scenic designation surrounding large Bend national Park along the Texas border with Mexico. Despite being redirected and also sucked dry for numerous miles before reaching El Paso, the flow gets replenished by Mexico’s Rio Conchos simply upstream from big Bend’s top eponymous S-curve enough to feed a 191-mile segment that Wild & Scenic river, established in 1978.

Towering limestone walls extending up to 1,500 feet in the park’s Santa Elena and also Mariscal canyons administer much the the scenery amidst a remote, rugged wilderness the extends far beyond large Bend’s 118-mile flow boundary.

The Backstory

Water supply within the Rio Grande drainage is dwindling. The global Boundary and also Water board of directors was compelled to lease watering water to flourish cottonwood trees because that habitat repair along the riverbank below Elephant Butte Dam in main New Mexico. Diversions because that municipal and farming use currently claim part 95 percent the the Rio Grande’s average annual flow, and also Elephant Butte’s entrances now just open throughout a brief irrigation season.

Increasingly constant droughts in the challenge of climate change and growing populations roughly Albuquerque and El Paso can exacerbate the problem. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation approximates the upper Rio Grande watershed will collect 30 percent less water by the end of the century, as annual snowpacks shrink and also evaporation rates increase.

The river’s catastrophic story is perhaps best told from the perspective of the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow in brand-new Mexico, the final survivor that a suite of little native minnow varieties once found throughout the river. Diminished to simply 5 percent of its former variety by dams and diversions, that survives just in the middle section the the river, near Albuquerque. The last minnow might soon be thrust from the flow by the farming demand for water in the face of drought.


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The Future

Because of its listing under the Endangered varieties Act, the Silvery Minnow has long to be a source of conflict, consisting of litigation. But it does regulate to buy some time by maintaining water in the basin that otherwise wouldn’t most likely be there.

Albuquerque has started to establish the services of a healthy and balanced Rio Grande because that drinking water, recreation, and also the ar at large, and is taking proactive steps to maintain its water and also land.

Outdoor recreation is now the 3rd leading industry throughout the entire river corridor, behind agriculture and mining (petroleum, herbal gas, coal, uranium ore, silver, lead, gold, potash, and gypsum).

A balanced method to water management, including aggressive conservation and also efficiency measures, is essential if the silvery minnow—and by extension the once mighty Rio Grande—is going to recover.


Did friend Know

The Rio Grande (“Big River”) was named “El Rio Bravo del Norte,” or “The Fierce river of the North,” by Spanish explorers in the 1500s. It is still well-known as “Rio Bravo” in Mexico.

Despite that name, the Rio Grande averages only about one-fifth as much water together its neighbor, the Colorado River.

Colorado’s san Luis Valley follow me the top Rio Grande is a spring layover for an ext than 20,000 migrating sandhill cranes and hosts an yearly “Crane Fest” at surrounding wildlife refuges.

Less than 25 years after receiving Wild and Scenic designation in 2 regions, the Rio Grande deserve the No. 1 point out on American Rivers’ many Endangered Rivers in America® perform in 1992.

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On any given day throughout the watering season, Colorado diverts 95 percent or more of the Rio Grande to water the farms and pastures that the mountain Luis Valley.