The mighty Rio Grande

Twelve years ago this summer, I wrote my first news story about the Rio Grande in New Mexico. In July, 2002, I reported for High Country News:

Since early June, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees have been working on the “Rio Grande highway” near Socorro, N.M., a seven-mile stretch of dried-up river. Salvage crews net minnows from the isolated pools, truck them upstream, then release survivors into the Rio Grande at Albuquerque. There is irony in their toil: Only 100 yards away, water for downstream irrigators flows out of the river through a conveyance channel.

It’s sort of strange for me to look back on that story, which I wrote at the very beginning of my career. One, I never imagined that more than a decade later, I’d still be writing about the Rio Grande. (Actually? I think it’s officially an obsession now.) And two, I never imagined that the state’s largest river would still be in such poor shape.

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In the latest issue of the Santa Fe Reporter, I write about a deepening crisis on the river. And while I frequently find myself dismayed — about everything from the politics of water in the West to declining snowpack  — I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that the river itself isn’t still a kickass wonder to experience.

Whenever I explain stories I’m working on to my daughter, she almost always asks me: “So what should we do?” (And I have to admit that she stumped me today, when I was explaining the Cliven Bundy issue in Nevada after we listened to a report on the news…)

When it comes to the Rio Grande, the easiest thing to do is this: Enjoy it.

Yes, conserve water. Yes, elect wise officials. Yes, be conscious of endangered species, the link between groundwater and surface water, and the ways in which land use policies affect water resources. Demand that science be taught in public schools. Talk about climate change at the dinner table. Recognize that we’re all in this together, no matter our individual stakes in the river’s waters. But most of all? Go the heck outside. Get off the paved bike path and walk to the river’s bank. Kayak, raft, or canoe down the river. Learn about your watershed. Look over the bridge on your commute to work and pay attention to the water levels. Walk with your kids and keep your eyes peeled for porcupines, birds, coyotes, ants. Keep a journal. Bring a sketch pad for your kids when you’re in the bosque. And jeez, just look at the river. It’s really something, isn’t it?

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