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.
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?
Most people in Albuquerque see the Middle Rio Grande in flashes, from a bike path or a bridge. But really? That’s no way to know the river. It takes drifting downstream and sometimes running into sandbars.
The river provides water to cities and farmers. But it’s also a place of wildness, and of solace. Here’s an audio postcard from a canoe trip I took down the river last spring with river guide Stephanie DeHerrera.
Last week, I had the chance to hang out with 18 other journalists and four folks from the Institutes of Journalism & Natural Resources. We traveled around Montana, visiting beautiful places and learning from experts on everything from forest fire ecology and climate change to endangered species and composting livestock carcasses.
Here’s the week in Tweets:
While looking through pictures from last month, I just realized that while I was busy snapping pictures of this Belted Kingfisher, I neglected to notice there was someone else in the frame, too:
(Looks to me like a Cooper’s Hawk, but feel free to correct me if you think otherwise….)
…And here’s the updated White Nose Syndrome map from today:
I just received this map from Paul McKenzie and Jonathan Reichard at the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Reichard mentioned that a new map may be coming out soon. (Just to emphasize: There are no reported incidences in New Mexico.) To see the archived maps, visit: http://whitenosesyndrome.org/resources/map
I love the Rio Grande’s bosque. And I especially love spotting porcupines up in the trees. Here are a few blurry shots from a canoe trip last Saturday in the Middle Rio Grande. (These guys were hanging out on the west side of the Rio Grande, north of Alameda. The only reason I spotted them was because the raptor in the tree caught my eye. Oh, and I blame my porcupine obsession entirely upon Dan Shaw, a writer and teacher at Albuquerque’s Bosque School who let me tag along with his students a year or two ago.)
I’ve spent the past two afternoons mucking around along the Rio Grande as it runs through Corrales. Seeing as how this is a terribly dry year–even more dry than last–I shouldn’t have been surprised to see that the water isn’t even flowing along the right side of one of the islands in the river near the north end of Corrales.
I realize the vantage points aren’t the the same, and the dates aren’t exactly one year apart. But check out the photos of this same side channel. The first is from March 11, 2013 and the second is from yesterday, March 27, 2013:
Over the weekend, I spent time walking along the Rio Grande and some of the ditches in the valley. I wasn’t reporting, but just kind of wandering and chatting with people–about the river and about irrigation season. During three casual conversations, people informed me that Texas was taking New Mexico’s water. One of those folks blamed the river’s low flows on Texas; two irrigators working on their turnouts in Corrales said Texas was going to take all their water anyway.
Those three conversations, plus a few others, made me realize just how little people understand about the water they use. Many don’t seem to understand where it comes from, where it goes, who has what sorts of rights to it, and how the natural and political systems work.
Honestly, I wish this coming spring and summer were going to be a lot less interesting.
At any rate, here’s a piece I wrote for UNM School of Law’s Utton Center on the Texas v. New Mexico complaint Texas has filed in the US Supreme Court with respect to the waters of the Rio Grande. I learned a lot while researching the story over the past couple of weeks–and I learned that it’s a helluva lot more complicated than “Texas versus New Mexico.”
Check it out and please pass it along to someone you know–who might need a hand understanding the issue: