Great River Campaign

The Rio Grande:  Lifeblood of An Arid Landscape

The Rio Grande begins as snow in the Rocky Mountains melts, providing water for irrigating crops and for our drinking water supplies. But even the deepest snows are not enough to sustain the Rio Grande because of over-allocation of the river’s scarce water supplies.

Rio Grande WatershedUntil 2004, the Rio Grande flowed to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico.  Increasingly the river has dried up prior to reaching the sea.

In fact, more water leaves the Rio Grande than enters it each year because of  water diversions, climate change, chronic drought, and population growth.

This current water management approach is unsustainable.

If we stay on our current course, the Rio Grande could dry up altogether, even in places seemingly unthinkable.  Fish like the critically endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow won’t be able to survive.  Rafters won’t come to float the Rio Grande’s whitewater rapids.  And economic opportunities for our communities will dry up as the river dries up.

The economic future of the Rio Grande Basin is strongly linked to a healthy, flowing Rio Grande. WildEarth Guardians and a coalition of other businesses operating throughout Colorado, New Mexico and Texas is working to ensure a living Rio Grande with flows sufficient to provide for native fish and wildlife, tourism and other economic opportunies.

The River needs our help.  Learn more about what you can to help the Rio Grande by joining WildEarth Guardians.

Rio Grande

The lifeline of the west – for generations to come?

  • Ten million people, from Albuquerque to El Paso rely on Rio Grande water.

  • The River supports a way of life that sustains local business and a robust tourism-based economy. Millions of tourists flock to the banks of the River and its tributaries each year for boating, fishing, birding, hunting and hiking.

The Rio Grande Basin, or watershed, covers 182,200 square miles, three U.S. states, and four Mexican states, and serves more than a dozen American Indian nations.


The Rio Grande, surging southward nearly 1,900 miles from its source in the Southern Rockies to the Gulf of Mexico, has been one of the most important and historic river systems in the American West. The third largest river in the U.S., the Rio Grande flows through five states in Mexico and three states in the United States and flows through over a dozen Native American nations. Originally the Rio Grande teemed with life, obeying its own ecological imperatives, pulsing each spring with runoff from mountain snow melt and migrating dynamically across its valley floodplain. This dynamism created a richly diverse cottonwood bosque that was one of the largest river forests in all of North America. At one time the river was so abundant with life that ancient sturgeons called it home and the secretive jaguar prowled the dense Bosque.


The river is the cultural, economic and ecological lifeblood of the region, not only providing water for farms, cities and industries that serve more than 10 million people, but also creating vital habitat for literally thousands of different species of native wildlife. In the new millenium, the Rio Grande has repeatedly failed to reach its ancient confluence with the sea, both because demands for those waters and levels of contamination in its waters have continued to rise. Moreover, numerous endangered species –including the embattled Rio Grande silvery minnow and its terrestrial partner, the Southwest willow flycatcher – are indicators that the entire river ecosystem is imperiled.


In order for the Rio Grande to be a living river that sustains all of the life that depends on it fundamental changes in river management are needed.  The vision of a living Rio Grande includes:

  • Restoration of water flows that more closely mimic natural patterns;
  • Legal recognition of the river's rights to its own waters by understanding that instream flow is a beneficial use;
  • Funding for acquisition of leasing of water rights for restoration flows;
  • Prevention of pollutants dumped into the river from industry, cities, and run-off from farms and urban areas;
  • Restoration of processes that maintain the river's natural channel, floodplain and riparian corridor.

For more on Adriel's work, visit his web site: