[OPINION] The Rio Grande is dying. Does anyone care?

The Rio Grande near La Joya, N.M., in August. Less snowpack means the river is being drained dry by irrigation demands. /Credit Ivan Pierre Aguirre for The New York Times


Drained by farmers and divided by treaty, America’s second-longest river is running dry.

By Richard Parker | The New York Times

(Editor’s note:Opinion pieces are published for discussions purposes only.)

One of North America’s great rivers is dying.

Stretching nearly 1,900 miles from the Colorado Rockies to the salty Gulf of Mexico, the Rio Grande has been the stuff of Southwestern lore, sustained entire cultures and nourished wildlife in an otherwise unforgiving part of the planet.

The Rio Grande is the third-longest river wholly in the United States, exceeded only by the Yukon and the combined Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Yet this summer it nearly stopped flowing from Colorado into New Mexico. The muddy water that does flow into Texas is something of a mirage, released from reservoirs or even imported from faraway basins. Drained by farmers, divided by treaty, feuded over in courtrooms and neglected when not pumped and drained, the Rio Grande is at once one of America’s most famous rivers and one of its most abused.

The problem is compounded by the techniques that farmers and cities have developed to get around such water shortages: When rivers run low, they can tap into deep aquifers or pump water from hundreds of miles away. All of which raises a tough question for a technologically advanced country like ours. If we don’t think we need the Rio Grande for its water, are we willing to save it for its own sake?


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September 2018