US Army Corps of Engineers
Albuquerque District

Trekking Down the River: The Rio Grande Expedition

Public Affairs Specialist
Published Aug. 29, 2014
Colin McDonald puts in at Central Ave in Albuquerque, Aug. 18, 2014. This may be the last water until they reach Presidio, Texas.

Colin McDonald puts in at Central Ave in Albuquerque, Aug. 18, 2014. This may be the last water until they reach Presidio, Texas.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., -- In mid-June, an expeditionary team from Austin, Texas, set out to tell the story, “The Disappearing Rio Grande Expedition, 1900 Miles From Source to Sea.” The purpose of this adventure is to vividly tell the story of the vanishing Rio Grande, and the consequences for the people and ecosystems that depend upon it.

The team consists of Colin McDonald (reporter), Erich Schlegel (photojournalist), Jason Jones (logistics), and other support crew. Funded by donations, and in partnership with the Texas Tribune, out of Austin, the team began their trek at Stony Pass, Colo., the headwaters of the Rio Grande on the Continental Divide. They plan to reach Boca Chica, located just east of Brownsville, Texas, around the end of January 2015. Here, the Rio Grande separates the United States from Mexico. 

“The river is very telling of the land it goes thru,” said McDonald. “The Rio Grande used to be dominated by agriculture; now there is more competition and a lot less water,” he said.

As the team treks farther south, they stop to listen and learn from those whose lives are intertwined with the river. This includes ranchers, farmers, pueblo people, water managers, and many others. 

While at Cochiti Dam, McDonald and Schlegel met with Marcos Rosacker, operations project manager, Cochiti Lake, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Rosacker knows quite well how managing the river usage is always a pressing issue. 

“Working at Cochiti Lake, where the building of the dam had such life-changing effects for the Pueblo de Cochiti, an understanding of the two sides is always first and foremost in everyone’s mind,” said Rosacker. “This excursion provides many with a greater of awareness of the conditions, or plight, of the Rio Grande,” he said. “The more water that is drawn away for various human uses diminishes the river itself – and the amount of water available for everyone. The Corps wants a healthy ecosystem and river, making it better and better for all plants, and animals, as well as human beings.” 

When portaging at Central Ave SE in Albuquerque, McDonald noted that there was a good chance that they would not have water for a good portion of the next leg of their travels. 

“We are prepared to walk 700 miles of the Rio Grande,” he said. “We expect to find water at Presidio, Texas. There the Rio Conchas River meets the Rio Grande and allows the Rio Grande to be reborn,” he said.

You can follow the team’s expedition at: http://riogrande.texastribune.org/archive/.