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Climate change, over-allocation and the border wall are erasing the Rio Grande. Let's document the changes and look for solutions. Read more

El Paso, TX Journalism
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This project was successfully funded on April 23, 2014.

Climate change, over-allocation and the border wall are erasing the Rio Grande. Let's document the changes and look for solutions.

El Paso, TX Journalism
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About this project

The Rio Grande is disappearing.

For more than 3,000 years it has supported civilizations and been the lifeblood of the valleys it passes through. Now cities and farms are sucking the ancient river dry, it is evaporating ever faster and being hidden by a growing border wall.

After spending the academic year as a Ted Scripps Fellow studying the science and policy of the Rio Grande, it's time to head down the river and tell its story.

In June, at the peak of the irrigation season, I’ll begin a seven-month journey following the river’s 1,900-mile course by kayak, canoe and foot from the San Juan Mountains of Southern Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico.

The goal of this Kickstarter is to raise the money to pay for equipment for this expedition. 

In partnership with The Texas Tribune this story will be told in real time, with photos, videos, blog posts and written stories uploaded from the banks of the river via satellite. The content will be free and available for anyone to see and share online.

For ten years I've been a newspaper reporter. I have trouble sitting at a desk and a penchant for small boats and long walks. This is the best way I know to get at the heart of the complicated story about what is happening to the people and ecosystems that depend on the river. In telling this story, I will also find the clues to what the future of the river will be.

"El Rio Desaparecido" by Matt Morris
"El Rio Desaparecido" by Matt Morris

As I travel, I’ll take water quality samples and photos of microorganisms with my cellphone. With that data, I’ll document the river’s transformation from one of the best trout streams in Colorado to an open ditch that collects the runoff from cities, farms and the waste from broken sewer pipes.

The picture above is of a watercolor by Matt Morris of San Antonio, Texas. It is based on a satellite image of the Rio Grande as it flows past Hatch, New Mexico. Matt was inspired by this project and the painting is one of the first tools we are using to explain the challenge of getting a small river to irrigate a desert. 

Photographer Mike Kane will join the trip on key sections to document sections of the river that are rarely seen and capture the impact the dwindling river has on the people that live along it.

To make this all possible, we need to raise money for equipment and the data plan to be able to report from anywhere. We also need a canoe and provisions for a seven-month expedition. Anything raised above the $5,000 goal will go towards paying for Mike's expenses and luxuries like evacuation insurance.  

To say thank you for your support, we are offering a print of Matt's painting, some handmade soap, a postcard from the river and even the official expedition sticker.  

Risks and challenges

The logistic of traveling the length of the Rio Grande are complex.

In Colorado I will have to get permission from private land owners to cross their land. In New Mexico there are class V rapids to portage. In Texas and Mexico I will have to work with federal bureaucracies on both sides of the river so I can legally navigate and resupply.

On top of that, the entire river basin is in a historic drought that will leave 600 miles or more of the riverbed dry.

All of these challenges can be overcome with planning and preparation.

I am not new to long distance self-supported journeys. When I was nine-years-old my family rode bikes from Glacier National Park to Seattle. I've been doing similar trips ever since. I've ridden bikes across the country twice. I've paddled a kayak the length of the Texas Coast and down the Inside Passage from Ketchikan, Alaska to Seattle. I know the importance of being prepared, how to reduce risk and, when all else fails, to adapt.

I have dedicated the nine months proceeding the trip to research, studying Spanish and training. I've established a network of locals along the length of the river, who will help me safely travel. When I am not reading federal and state reports on the Rio Grande, I'm running or paddling, so my body will be as ready as it can be for whatever challenges the river will have in store.

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Rewards

  • You selected
    Pledge $1 or more

    4 backers

    Sincere appreciation and recognition on the website hosted by The Texas Tribune.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $10 or more

    15 backers

    A 5"x 4" oval sticker sticker with the logo of The Disappearing Rio Grande Expedition and recognition on the website.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $25 or more

    16 backers

    A handwritten postcard sent to you from the banks of the Rio Grande, the sticker and recognition on the website.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $50 or more

    20 backers Limited (25 left of 45)

    Recognition on the website, a postcard from the banks of the river, the sticker and a bar of handmade-all-vegetable soap inspired by the botanicals of the Rio Grande.

    I'm making a large batch of this biodegradable soap with hints of grapefruit and yucca with my good friends at Smithdish Soapworks. I'll be taking this soap with me on the river so I won't stink and can minimize water pollution. You can do the same wherever your travels take you.

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $75 or more

    6 backers Limited (14 left of 20)

    7.5"x10" print of "El Rio Desaparecido," a watercolor by Matt Morris inspired by this project and based on the satellite view of the Rio Grande as it flows past Hatch, New Mexico.

    The print is done with archival inks on fine art paper and is ready to be framed.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $150 or more

    4 backers Limited (11 left of 15)

    12"X16" print of "El Rio Desaparecido," a watercolor by Matt Morris inspired by this project and based on the satellite view of the Rio Grande as it flows past Hatch, New Mexico.

    The print is done with archival inks on fine art paper and is ready to be framed.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $1,000 or more

    3 backers

    Come run the rapids of the Rio Grande Gorge in New Mexico or float through the Canyons of Big Bend National Park in Texas with me. I'll take care of the details of boats and gear, you just need to get to the river.

    Estimated delivery:

Funding period

- (25 days)