We are up to our 4th river in out Rivers of the World at Risk series. So far we have been to Asia, Europe, and South America. Today we come closer to home. The World Wildlife Federation has listed the Rio Grande as its forth "most at-risk river" in the world.
The Rio Grande is the second longest river in the United States. It begins in Colorado's mountains, and runs through New Mexico, eventually creating the international border between Texas and Mexico until it spills its waters into the Gulf of Mexico. This ecologically, culturally and economically important river travels for nearly 1,900 miles through this region. The watershed of the great river covers over 182,000 square miles and is an important water source for the agricultural communities along it.
There are various crops that are supported by irrigation systems that flow from the Rio Grande. Potatoes, alfalfa, pecans, citris fruit, and cotton are some of the farms you might find not too far from its banks. Along with vegetable farms, cattle farms are a leading industry that benefit from this water source.
The demands of agriculture in the Rio Grande River basin, coupled with municipal and industrial demands is drastically tapping the water supply of the river. Also, there is pollution, development of infrastructures such as dams, and invasive species negatively impacting this important river.
In efforts to protect and restore the Rio Grande, WildEarth Gaurdians
has been campaigning to remedy what they believe is a flaw in state and federal water policy, which is that the Rio Grande does not have a right to its own water. Their work began in 1996 after the river's flow was diverted for agricultural interests. The result of this action was the subsequent drying up of the river, killing and negatively transforming the habitat of the river valley.
Dumping in the Rio Grande is also a major issue. According to the website Toxic Texas
, rapid growth, resulting in over-pumping of water, polluted run-off, the discharging of millions of gallons of raw sewage, as well as toxic chemicals into the river are serious problems.
As we have seen with the other rivers we have looked at so far dams are a major source of environmental damage to river systems. There are 16 dams or diversions along the Rio Grande and while the benefits may seem necessary, the long term impact of these infrastructures can be devastating. According to internationalrivers.org
dams wipe out species, flood huge areas of wetlands, forests, and farmlands, and have the capacity to displace millions of people. For more information on the environmental impact of dams you can visit the International Rivers website
An invasive species that is negatively affecting the Rio Grande is the Giant Reed. This native Eastern Asian plant has been transplanted around the world because of its variety of uses which range from fishing poles to musical instruments. Despite its many uses, however, it is considered an invasive weed because it is an exceptionally fast growing plant. As these plants grow and spread they become dense and displace the natural habitat of an area. This is exactly what has happened along the Rio Grande River Valley in Texas and New Mexico.
For more information on how you might get involved in the protection and restoration of the the Rio Grande River Valley be sure to visit the following advocate websites.