On our trip to Arizona we saw that the Rio Grande River was dry again. This magnificent historic river has been reduced to a few puddles here. Nothing that would warrant the name “grand” or even “river.” This is a shame. After we passed it I realized I should have stopped to photograph its demise. Next year I should photograph that as well.
Will Rogers once described the Rio Grande as “the only river I know of that is in need of irrigating.” This was funny, but also a wise observation because thanks to dams and withdrawals for agriculture this famous river has become fragmented. It is nearly 1,900 miles longs second in the US to only the Missouri-Mississippi network. At least at one time the Rio Grande was that long. It really isn’t anymore as we could see. Water no longer flows through its entire channel.
The Rio Grande’s headwaters are found in the San Juan Range in Colorado. From there it empties into the Gulf of Mexico at Brownsville Texas. Water flows into the Rio Grande from 11% of the continental United States. Much of that land is drought prone, but it is also vulnerable to many dams and irrigation projects that divert much of it historic flow. In recent years significant portions of it have run dry. In 2001 for the first time the river failed to reach the Gulf of Mexico. It happened again the next year.
Diversions for municipal and agricultural use claim 95% of its average annual flow. That is the problem. Recent droughts have exacerbated the problem. Climate change may mean there are more droughts. So the future of the river is grim. Growing populations around Albuquerque and El Paso sharpen the problems.
Yet parts of it are still spectacular. But we did not see any of them. We just saw puddles. No river at all.