We care about the Rio Grande

October 8, 2018

Richard Parker’s scary op-ed (“A dying Rio Grande — does anyone care?” Commentary, Sept. 19) lists many of the insults humans have imposed on the river, and the question he asks is a good one.

However, he fails to mention the answer to his question: In fact, many people do care, and they are trying to cope with what sometimes looks hopeless. From the headwaters in Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico, dozens of government agencies, schools and universities, and individual citizens are trying to keep the Rio Grande alive.

In New Mexico, the much-maligned U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages Cochiti Dam to provide water for the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, the biggest users of Rio Grande water, have reduced their diversions of water from the river, introduced technology to conserve water without hurting farmers and invested in ways to preserve river habitat. The Bureau of Reclamation, once only interested in building dams, now uses modern technology to predict the effects of climate disruption on the river, and acts in concert with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others to protect the silvery minnow and improve its habitat. State and local governments have spent millions on river restoration, built facilities to help propagate fish and work to keep them alive when river flows decline.

Three of New Mexico’s universities (the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and New Mexico State University) support programs that monitor the health of the river and teach students how they can be agents of positive change for the river and its riparian forest (the bosque). Under the leadership of UNM and Bosque School, hundreds of primary and secondary students get to spend time getting wet and dirty to collect environmental data for the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program. That data is used by scientists and managers to support and improve their efforts on behalf of the river.

More than a decade ago, the otherwise credible American Rivers declared the Rio Grande “… the most endangered river in America.” When I asked the head of American Rivers for the evidence to that claim, she admitted that it was the opinion of a single river rafting company. Prophets of doom don’t always get it right.

There is no doubt the Rio Grande has seen better days, as has virtually every river on Earth that, like the Rio Grande, runs through a desert. Regardless, the good folks who work in and around the Rio Grande deserve a little more optimism, along with our thanks for their efforts.

Sterling Grogan lives in Santa Fe.

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