The Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, which forms a natural border between the U.S. and Mexico. (Photo courtesy: World Wildlife Fund)
This guest blog was written by Karin Krchnak, Director of the Freshwater Program at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Fresh water is the world’s life blood. It keeps us clean and healthy. It feeds us through crop irrigation and fishing. It provides energy by growing biofuels, cooling plants, and delivering hydropower. It fuels industry. And it houses an incredible range of biodiversity.
Yet while water is a renewable resource, it is not infinite. Of all the water on the planet, only one percent is fresh (not salty) and available (not frozen). This one percent is under siege, threatened by pollution, dams, overuse, climate change and other impacts.
Since we all need water—people, businesses and nature—we all need to work together to protect it. This is why we at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are committed to a basin-wide, collaborative approach to conserve fresh water.
The Rio Grande flows 1,885 miles through New Mexico, Texas and Mexico to the Gulf of Mexico. It is the freshwater source for over 13 million people. (Photo Courtesy: World Wildlife Fund)
Nowhere is this more obvious than the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, the natural border between the United States and Mexico. Called the Rio Grande in the United States and the Rio Bravo in Mexico, the river rises in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado and flows 1,885 miles through New Mexico, Texas and Mexico to the Gulf of Mexico. It is the freshwater source for over 13 million people living in one of the driest, most arid regions of the Americas.
In 2001, for the first time in recorded history, the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo failed to reach the Gulf of Mexico. Exploitation of water resources is the most serious problem facing the basin. Despite water scarcity, municipal and industrial water use in the area is increasing. Hundreds of dams and thousands of miles of canals disrupt the river and divert water to support the agricultural industry. Two highly invasive species, salt cedar and giant cane, absorb large quantities of water from the river, reducing water flow and degrading native habitat and water quality. Alarmingly, the river has already lost half of its native fish, and many of its species are endangered or have already gone extinct.
We at WWF quickly began gathering public and private sector organizations on both sides of the border to ameliorate and protect the precious river basin. While we saw some successes, our work truly took off in 2007, when The Coca-Cola Company and WWF selected the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo as a key focus of our transformational partnership. Together, we worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local nonprofits to help save the endangered silvery minnow, engaged local communities around habitat conservation and water management, and even identified a new species, the Julimes pupfish, which lives in the 114 degree hot springs and is known as the hottest fish in the world. To protect this unique fish, the partnership helped establish a local NGO of area farmers who protect its habitat and the area around the springs.
Some of the most impressive work comes through collaboration with the parks responsible for both shores of the river—the U.S. Big Bend National Park and Mexico’s National Commission of Protected Areas (CONANP)—as well as local, bi-national implementers. We continue to overcome difficult logistical (including coordinating passports and visas so we can work on both sides of the river) and physical challenges (such as high heat and hard labor) to rid sections of the river of highly invasive species. In doing so, we improve river conditions through integrated management and increased environmental flows that support healthy ecosystems.
The Rio Grande/Rio Bravo is the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert, a key conservation area, and one of the most at-risk rivers in the world. But so many rivers, lakes and streams around the world need help. Because water is a shared resource and because the issues impacting it are so grand, we need to work together to secure fresh water for people and nature. Learn what you can do to help, and join us on Twitter on Wednesday, April 2, 2014 for a #WaterTalk.
As noted in her WWF bio, Ms. Krchnak “is passionate about connecting the links between communities’ access to clean water and the role that individuals, especially women, can play in conserving the world’s freshwater resources. She has devoted much of her career to exploring how the sustainable management of rivers can benefit both people and nature.”