Rio Grande - River In North America

The Rio Grande, Spanish Ro Grande del Norte, or (in Mexico) Ro Bravo, is the fifth longest river in North America and the world, defining the border between the United States and Mexico. 
The Rio Grande begins as a clean, snow-fed mountain stream in the Rocky Mountains, rising more than 12,000 feet (3,700 metres) above sea level. It then falls through steppes and deserts, feeding fertile agricultural districts on its journey to the Gulf of Mexico. The river is around 1,900 km long in all (3,060 km).


The entire Rio Grande/ Rio Bravo watershed spans 924,300 square kilometres (335,000 square miles), with roughly half of it in the United States and the other half in Mexico. Texas covers almost 50,000 square miles of the watershed. 
The river stretches 1,255 miles along Mexico's international border. 
The USIBWC CRP Rio Grande Basin research region spans the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo's international reach from the New Mexico/Texas/Chihuahua border (El Paso/Cuidad Juarez area) to the Gulf of Mexico (Brownsville/ Matamoros area). 
The USIBWC research area has been divided into four subbasins for coordination and planning:
  • the Upper Sub-Basin, which stretches from the state line between New Mexico and Texas downstream to the International Amistad Reservoir,
  • the Pecos River Sub-Basin, from the Texas/New Mexico state line to the Rio Grande's confluence,
  • the Middle Sub-Basin, which includes the Devil's River and runs from the International Amistad Reservoir to the International Falcon Reservoir.
  • the Lower Sub-Basin, which stretches from the International Falcon Reservoir to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Rio Grande is known in Mexico as Rio Bravo, and its name means "Big River" in Spanish. The name "Bravo" means "furious" in English, thus it makes sense.
The Rio Grande runs through seven states, three in the United States and four in Mexico. It runs through Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas.
The Pecos, Devils, Chama, and Puerco Rivers in the United States, and the Conchos, Salado, and San Juan Rivers in Mexico, are the Rio Grande's main tributaries.


  • The Rio Grande is formed by the merging of various streams near the base of Canby Mountain, in the San Juan Mountains, due east of the Continental Divide of the Americas, in the western portion of the Rio Grande National Forest in the United States state of Colorado. 
  • The Rio Grande runs from the Continental Divide via the San Luis Valley, then south into New Mexico's Middle Rio Grande Valley, through the Rio Grande Gorge at Taos, and then toward Espanola, collecting extra water from the San Juan-Chama Diversion Project and the Rio Chama. 
  • The Rio Grande then flows south, irrigating the farmlands of the Middle Rio Grande Valley as it passes past New Mexico's desert cities of Albuquerque and Las Cruces, Texas' El Paso, and Mexico's Ciudad Juárez. 
  • The Rio Grande flows through historic Pueblo villages like Sandia Pueblo and Isleta Pueblo in the Albuquerque metropolitan area. 
  • The Rio Grande is the national border between the United States and Mexico, located south of El Paso.


  • As the population on both sides of the border continues to rise, communities near the border face major environmental challenges. Increased pressures on our natural resources are most visible when discussing water challenges and securing a sustainable water supply to satisfy expected increases in population and commercial use while balancing traditional uses such as agriculture. 
  • Various treaties and agreements between the United States and Mexico, as well as between states in both nations, have previously set the amount of water available in this region.
  • The quality of the water accessible to the region is also crucial. The primary usage of water from the Rio Grande has always been for agricultural purposes. Agriculture currently receives 75% of the total water allocation. The amount of dissolved solids in the water can affect whether it can be utilised for farming or drinking, which can result in higher treatment expenses. 
  • The Rio Grande provides water to agricultural fields that do not need to be treated. Various authorities and members of the community keep an eye on the level of dissolved solids in the river to verify that it fulfils state standards and is fit for its intended purpose. 
  • Water required for irrigation is predicted to decline by 36% over the next fifty years as a result of more water-efficient technologies and assumed voluntary water transfers (Texas Water Development Board, "Water for Texas: Summary of the Regional Water Plans").
  • The problems of water resource management in the Rio Grande are exacerbated by the Rio Grande's transnational nature. Texas Surface Water Quality Standards are in place on the US portion of the Rio Grande to ensure that water quality meets the Federal Clean Water Act's "fishable and swimmable" requirements (CWA). 
  • In turn, the Mexican government has created its water quality standards, which are not always similar to those in the United States. Even after the minimum required levels of pollution control technology have been deployed at identified point sources, Section 303(d) of the CWA includes impaired waterbodies that do not meet water quality criteria. Several areas of the Rio Grande Basin have been added to the 303(d) list. 
  • However this poses a challenge because US discharges into the river must meet US requirements, but Mexican discharges must meet Mexican standards. At recognised point sources along the Rio Grande, the minimum required levels of pollution control technology have yet to be deployed. 
  • In the event of international waters like the Rio Grande, a set of norms agreed upon by both countries should be considered. Through a binational effort, the United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC) works to address international water quality deficiencies and propose solutions to such impairments. 
  • The USIBWC, for example, has partnered with the Mexican Section of the IBWC (MxIBWC) to lead a facility planning effort in Mexican border communities, bringing their wastewater system planning efforts to the level of certification by the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC) and financing through the North American Development Bank, thanks to EPA grants (NADBank). 
  • The BECC has certified the wastewater system projects for Tamaulipas, Reynosa, Anapra, and several other cities as a result of the planning efforts. 
  • The USIBWC has also put forth significant effort in collaborating and coordinating with other state and municipal regulatory bodies with jurisdiction over transboundary water quality issues.
  • As a result of the approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Rio Grande border region will confront numerous obstacles in the coming years. More than 6 million people and 2 million acres of land rely on the Rio Grande for drinking and irrigation water. 
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  • The growing industrialisation of border regions, combined with population booms, has posed a major danger to both groundwater and surface water resources.
  • The terrible storey of the river is arguably best conveyed through the eyes of the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow, the last survivor of a suite of small native minnow species originally distributed throughout the river. 
  • Dams and diversions have reduced its historic range to just 5% of its original size, and it now only exists in the middle stretch of the river near Albuquerque. Because of the increased demand for water in the face of drought, the last minnow may soon be forced out of the river.
  • The Silvery Minnow has long been a subject of contention, including litigation, due to its status under the Endangered Species Act. However, it does manage to buy some time by holding water in the basin that would otherwise be lost.
  • Albuquerque has begun to recognise the importance of a healthy Rio Grande for drinking water, recreation, and the town as a whole, and is adopting proactive measures to conserve water and land.
  • Outdoor recreation has overtaken agriculture and mining as the third most important industry in the river corridor (petroleum, natural gas, coal, uranium ore, silver, lead, gold, potash, and gypsum).
  • If the silvery minnow—and, by extension, the once-mighty Rio Grande—are to recover, a balanced approach to water management is required, including rigorous conservation and efficiency measures.

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