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The Rio Grande ( and ), known in Mexico as the Río Bravo del Norte and as the Río Bravo, is one of the principal
river A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or another river. In some cases, a river flows into the ground and becomes dry at the end of its course without reaching another body of wate ...

river
s (along with the
Colorado River The Colorado River ( es, Río Colorado) is one of the principal rivers (along with the Rio Grande) in the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico. The river drains an expansive, arid drainage basin, watershed that encompasses parts of ...

Colorado River
) in the
southwestern United States The Southwestern United States, also known as the American Southwest or simply the Southwest, is a geographic and cultural list of regions of the United States, region of the United States that generally includes Arizona, New Mexico, and adjacen ...
and in
northern Mexico Northern Mexico ( es, el Norte de México ), commonly referred as , is an informal term for the northern cultural and geographical area in Mexico Mexico ( es, México ; Nahuan languages: ), officially the United Mexican States (; EUM ), is ...
. The length of the Rio Grande is and originates in south-central
Colorado Colorado (, other variants) is a state in the Mountain West The Mountain West Conference (MW) is one of the collegiate athletic conferences affiliated with the National Collegiate Athletic Association The National Collegiate Athletic ...

Colorado
, in the United States, and flows to the
Gulf of Mexico The Gulf of Mexico ( es, Golfo de México) is an ocean basin 400px, Diagrammatic cross-section of an ocean basin, showing the various geographic features In hydrology Hydrology (from Greek: wikt:ὕδωρ, ὕδωρ, "hýdōr" meaning ...

Gulf of Mexico
. The Rio Grande
drainage basin A drainage basin is any area of land where precipitation collects and drains off into a common outlet, such as into a river, bay, or other body of water. The drainage basin includes all the surface water from surface runoff, rain runoff, snowm ...

drainage basin
(watershed) has an area of ; however, the
endorheic basin An endorheic basin (; also spelled endoreic basin or endorreic basin) is a drainage basin A drainage basin is any area of land where precipitation In meteorology Meteorology is a branch of the atmospheric sciences Atmospheri ...
s that are adjacent to and within the greater drainage basin of the Rio Grande increase the total drainage-basin area to . After traversing the length of
New Mexico ) , population_demonym = New Mexican ( es, Neomexicano, Neomejicano, Nuevo Mexicano) , seat = Santa Fe , LargestCity = Albuquerque , LargestMetro = Greater Albuquerque , OfficialLang = None , Languages = English English usually refer ...

New Mexico
, the Rio Grande becomes the
Mexico–United States border The Mexico–United States border ( es, frontera México–Estados Unidos) is an Border, international border separating Mexico and the United States, extending from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Gulf of Mexico in the east. The border ...
, between the
U.S. state In the , a state is a , of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a , each state holds al jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory where it shares its with the . Due to this shared sovereignty, are both of t ...
of
Texas Texas (, ; Spanish Spanish may refer to: * Items from or related to Spain: **Spaniards, a nation and ethnic group indigenous to Spain **Spanish language **Spanish cuisine Other places * Spanish, Ontario, Canada * Spanish River (disambigu ...

Texas
and the northern Mexican states of
ChihuahuaChihuahua may refer to: Places *Chihuahua (state), a Mexican state **Chihuahua (dog), a breed of dog named after the state **Chihuahua cheese, a type of cheese originating in the state **Chihuahua City, the capital city of the state **Chihuahua Muni ...
and
Coahuila Coahuila (), formally Coahuila de Zaragoza (), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Coahuila de Zaragoza ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Coahuila de Zaragoza), is one of the 32 Administrative divisions of Mexico, states of Mexico. Coahuil ...
,
Nuevo León Nuevo León () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in ...
and
Tamaulipas Tamaulipas (), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Tamaulipas ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Tamaulipas), is one of the 31 states which, along with Mexico City Mexico City ( es, link=no, Ciudad de México, ; abbreviated as CDMX; nah, ...

Tamaulipas
; moreover, a short segment of the Rio Grande is a partial state-boundary between the U.S. states of
New Mexico ) , population_demonym = New Mexican ( es, Neomexicano, Neomejicano, Nuevo Mexicano) , seat = Santa Fe , LargestCity = Albuquerque , LargestMetro = Greater Albuquerque , OfficialLang = None , Languages = English English usually refer ...

New Mexico
and Texas. Since the mid–twentieth century, only 20 per cent of the Rio Grande's water reaches the Gulf of Mexico, because of the voluminous consumption of water required to irrigate farmland (e.g. the
Lower Rio Grande Valley The Lower Rio Grande Valley ( es, Valle del Río Grande), commonly known as the Rio Grande Valley or locally as The Valley, is a socio-cultural region spanning the border of Texas and Mexico located in a floodplain of the Rio Grande near its mou ...
) and to continually hydrate cities, such water usages are additional to the reservoirs of water retained with
diversion dam. This dam slows a normally fast and shallow river for partial diversion to a hydroelectric Hydroelectricity, or hydroelectric power, is electricity produced from hydropower Hydropower (from el, ὕδωρ, "water"), also known as water p ...
s.


Geography

The Rio Grande rises in the western part of the
Rio Grande National Forest Rio Grande National Forest is a 1.86 million-acre (7,530 km²) U.S. National Forest located in southwestern Colorado. The forest encompasses the San Luis Valley, which is the world's largest agriculture, agricultural :wikt:alpine, alpine vall ...
, in the U.S. state of
Colorado Colorado (, other variants) is a state in the Mountain West The Mountain West Conference (MW) is one of the collegiate athletic conferences affiliated with the National Collegiate Athletic Association The National Collegiate Athletic ...

Colorado
, and is formed by the joining of several streams at the base of Canby Mountain, in the
San Juan Mountains The San Juan Mountains is a high and rugged mountain range in the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Colorado Colorado (, other variants) is a U.S. state, state in the Mountain states, Mountain West region of the United States. It encompasses ...

San Juan Mountains
, due east of the
Continental Divide of the Americas The Continental Divide of the Americas (also known as the Great Divide, the Western Divide or simply the Continental Divide; ) is the principal, and largely mountain A mountain is an elevated portion of the Earth's crust, generally with st ...
. From the Continental Divide, the Rio Grande flows through the
San Luis Valley The San Luis Valley is a region in south-central Colorado Colorado (, other variants) is a U.S. state, state in the Mountain states, Mountain West region of the United States. It encompasses most of the Southern Rocky Mountains as well as the ...

San Luis Valley
, then south into the Middle
Rio Grande Valley In Texas Texas (, ) is a state in the South Central United States, South Central region of the United States. It is the second largest U.S. state by both List of U.S. states and territories by area, area (after Alaska) and List of U.S. st ...
in
New Mexico ) , population_demonym = New Mexican ( es, Neomexicano, Neomejicano, Nuevo Mexicano) , seat = Santa Fe , LargestCity = Albuquerque , LargestMetro = Greater Albuquerque , OfficialLang = None , Languages = English English usually refer ...

New Mexico
, and passes through the
Rio Grande Gorge
Rio Grande Gorge
, near Taos, then toward Española, afterwards collecting additional waters from the San Juan-Chama Diversion Project and from the
Rio Chama The Rio Chama, a major tributary river of the Rio Grande The Rio Grande ( or ; known in Mexico as Río Bravo del Norte, or simply Río Bravo) is one of the principal river A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flo ...
. The Rio Grande then continues southwards, irrigating the farmlands in the Middle Rio Grande Valley through the
desert A desert is a barren area of landscape where little precipitation occurs and, consequently, living conditions are hostile for plant and animal life. The lack of vegetation exposes the unprotected surface of the ground to the processes of ...

desert
cities of Albuquerque and Las Cruces in New Mexico, to
El Paso, Texas El Paso (; "the pass") is a city in and the county seat of El Paso County, Texas, El Paso County in the far southwestern part of the U.S. state of Texas. The 2020 population of the city from the United States Census Bureau, U.S. Census Bureau w ...

El Paso, Texas
, and then to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, in Mexico. In the
Albuquerque metropolitan area The Albuquerque Metropolitan Statistical Area is a metropolitan area A metropolitan area or metro is a region consisting of a densely populated urban core Urban means "related to a city". In that sense, the term may refer to: * Urban ar ...
, the Rio Grande flows by historic
Pueblo In the Southwestern United States The southwestern United States, also known as the American Southwest or simply the Southwest, is a geographic and cultural region of the United States that generally includes Arizona Arizona ( ; nv, ...

Pueblo
villages, such as
Sandia Pueblo Sandia Pueblo (; Tiwa: Tuf Shur Tia) is a federally recognized tribe of Native American Pueblo people inhabiting a reservation of the same name in the eastern Rio Grande Rift of central New Mexico ) , population_demonym = New Mexican ( ...
and
Isleta Pueblo Pueblo of Isleta or Isleta Pueblo ( tix, Shiewhibak , kjq, Dîiw'a'ane ; nv, Naatoohó ) is an unincorporated community File:Entering Heinola, Minnesota.jpg, Sign at Heinola, Minnesota, Heinola, an unincorporated community in Otter Tail Cou ...
. South of El Paso city, the Rio Grande is the national border between the U.S. and Mexico. The official length of the Rio Grande river-border ranges from to . The major tributary-river
Rio Conchos The Río Conchos (Conchos River) is a large river in the Mexican state The United Mexican States ( es, Estados Unidos Mexicanos) is a federal republic composed of 32 Federal Entities: 31 states and Mexico City, an autonomous entity. Accor ...
enters the Rio Grande mainstream at Ojinaga Municipality, in Chihuahua, due south of El Paso, and so supplies the mainstream of water that is the Mexican–American border. Moreover, the Rio Grande mainstream also is augmented with tributary waters from the
Pecos River The Pecos River ( es, Río Pecos) originates in north-central New Mexico and flows into Texas, emptying into the Rio Grande. Its headwaters are on the eastern slope of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Sangre de Cristo mountain range in Mora County n ...

Pecos River
and the Devils River, at the
Amistad Reservoir Amistad Reservoir ( es, Presa Amistad) is a Reservoir (water), reservoir on the Rio Grande at its confluence with the Devils River (Texas), Devils River northwest of Del Rio, Texas, Del Rio, Texas. The lake is bounded by Val Verde County, Texas, V ...
. Because the river's greatest depth is , the Rio Grande cannot be navigated by ocean-going ships, by passenger
riverboat A riverboat is a watercraft Watercraft, also known as water vessels or waterborne vessels, are vehicles A vehicle (from la, vehiculum) is a machine A machine is any physical system with ordered structural and functional propertie ...
s, or by . The Rio Grande rises in high mountains and flows for much of its length at high elevation; Albuquerque is , and El Paso above
sea level Mean sea level (MSL) (often shortened to sea level) is an average In colloquial, ordinary language, an average is a single number taken as representative of a list of numbers, usually the sum of the numbers divided by how many numbers are in th ...

sea level
. In New Mexico, the river flows through the Rio Grande rift from one
sediment Sediment is a naturally occurring material that is broken down by processes of weathering and erosion, and is subsequently sediment transport, transported by the action of wind, water, or ice or by the force of gravity acting on the particles. ...

sediment
-filled basin to another, cutting
canyon A canyon (; archaic British English British English (BrE) is the standard dialect A standard language (also standard variety, standard dialect, and standard) is a language variety that has undergone substantial codification of grammar a ...

canyon
s between the basins and supporting a fragile
bosque A bosque ( ) is a type of habitat found along the s of stream and river banks in the . It derives its name from the word for '. Setting In the predominantly or southwestern United States, a bosque is an -like ribbon of green vegetation, ...

bosque
ecosystem on its
flood plain A floodplain or flood plain or bottomlands is an area of land adjacent to a river which stretches from the banks of its channel to the base of the enclosing valley walls, and which experiences flooding during periods of high discharge.Goudi ...
. From El Paso eastward, the river flows through desert. Although irrigated agriculture exists throughout most of its stretch, it is particularly extensive in the
subtropical The subtropical zones or subtropics are geographical Geography (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country locat ...

subtropical
Lower Rio Grande Valley The Lower Rio Grande Valley ( es, Valle del Río Grande), commonly known as the Rio Grande Valley or locally as The Valley, is a socio-cultural region spanning the border of Texas and Mexico located in a floodplain of the Rio Grande near its mou ...
. The river ends in a small,
sand Sand is a granular material composed of finely divided rock (geology), rock and mineral particles. Sand has various compositions but is defined by its grain size. Sand grains are smaller than gravel and coarser than silt. Sand can also refer ...

sand
y
delta Delta commonly refers to: * Delta (letter) (Δ or δ), a letter of the Greek alphabet * River delta, a landform at the mouth of a river * D (NATO phonetic alphabet: "Delta"), the fourth letter of the modern English alphabet * Delta Air Lines, an Ame ...

delta
at the Gulf of Mexico. During portions of 2001 and 2002, the mouth of the Rio Grande was blocked by a sandbar. In the fall of 2003, the sandbar was cleared by high river flows around .


Navigation

Navigation was active during much of the 19th century, with over 200 different
steamboat upright=1.35, Dutch river steam-tugboat ''Mascotte II'' A steamboat is a boat that is propelled primarily by steam power from Stott Park Bobbin Mill, Cumbria, England A steam engine is a heat engine In thermodynamics Thermod ...

steamboat
s operating between the river's mouth close to Brownsville and
Rio Grande City, Texas Rio Grande City is a city in and the county seat A county seat is an administrative center, seat of government, or capital city of a county or Parish (administrative division), civil parish. The term is used in Canada, China, Romania, Hungary and ...
. Many steamboats from the
Ohio Ohio () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in Co ...

Ohio
and
Mississippi River The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and chief river A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or another river. In some cases, a river flows into the ground and b ...

Mississippi River
s were requisitioned by the U.S. government and moved to the Rio Grande during the
Mexican–American War The Mexican–American War, also known in the United States as the Mexican War and in Mexico as the (''U.S. intervention in Mexico''), was an armed conflict between the United States and Second Federal Republic of Mexico, Mexico from 1846 ...

Mexican–American War
in 1846. They provided transport for the U.S. Army, under General
Zachary Taylor Zachary Taylor (November 24, 1784 – July 9, 1850) was an American military leader who served as the 12th president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state A head of state (or c ...

Zachary Taylor
, to invade
Monterrey Monterrey (; ) is the capital and largest city of the northeastern state of Nuevo León, Mexico. Located at the foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental, the city is anchor to the Monterrey metropolitan area, the second most productive in Mexico w ...

Monterrey
,
Nuevo León Nuevo León () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in ...
, via Camargo Municipality, Tamaulipas. Army engineers recommended that with small improvements, the river could easily be made navigable as far north as El Paso. Those recommendations were never acted upon. The Brownsville & Matamoros International Bridge, a large
swing bridge A swing bridge is a movable bridge A moveable bridge, or movable bridge, is a bridge A bridge is a Nonbuilding structure, structure built to Span (engineering), span a physical obstacle, such as a body of water, valley, or road, without ...

swing bridge
, dates back to 1910 and is still in use today by automobiles connecting Brownsville with
Matamoros, Tamaulipas Matamoros, officially known as Heroica Matamoros, is a city in the northeastern Mexican Administrative divisions of Mexico, state of Tamaulipas, and the municipal seat of the Matamoros Municipality, Tamaulipas, homonymous municipality. It is on ...
. The swing mechanism has not been used since the early 1900s, though, when the last of the big steamboats disappeared. At one point, the bridge also had rail traffic. Railroad trains no longer use this bridge. A new rail bridge (West Rail International Crossing) connecting the U.S. and Mexico was built about 15 miles west of the Brownsville & Matamoros International Bridge. It was inaugurated in August 2015. It moved all rail operations out of downtown Brownsville and Matamoros. The West Rail International Crossing is the first new international rail crossing between the U.S. and Mexico in 105 years. The Brownsville & Matamoros International Bridge is now operated by the Brownsville and Matamoros Bridge Company, a joint venture between the Mexican government and the
Union Pacific Railroad The Union Pacific Railroad , legally Union Pacific Railroad Company and simply Union Pacific, is a freight-hauling railroad that operates 8,300 locomotives over routes in 23 U.S. state In the , a state is a , of which there are curre ...
. At the mouth of the Rio Grande, on the Mexican side, was the large commercial port of Bagdad, Tamaulipas. During the
American Civil War The American Civil War (also known by other names Other most often refers to: * Other (philosophy), a concept in psychology and philosophy Other or The Other may also refer to: Books * The Other (Tryon novel), ''The Other'' (Tryon nove ...
, this was the only legitimate port of the Confederacy. European warships anchored offshore to maintain the port's neutrality, and managed to do so successfully throughout that conflict, despite occasional stare-downs with blockading ships from the
US Navy ), (unofficial)."''Non sibi sed patriae''" ( en, "Not for self but for country") (unofficial). , colors = Blue and gold  , colors_label = Colors , march = "Anchors Aweigh "Anchors Aweigh" is the fight song of the United States Naval A ...
. It was a shallow-draft river port, with several smaller vessels that hauled cargo to and from the deeper-draft cargo ships anchored off shore. These deeper-draft ships could not cross the shallow
sandbar In oceanography, geomorphology, and Earth science, geoscience, a shoal is a natural submerged ridge, bank (geography), bank, or bar that consists of, or is covered by, sand or other unconsolidated material and rises from the bed of a body of ...
at the mouth of the river. The port's commerce was European military supplies, in exchange for bales of cotton.


History


Ancestral Rio Grande

The
sedimentary basin Sedimentary basins are regions of the Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continents and islands. The remainin ...
s forming the modern Rio Grande Valley were not integrated into a single river system draining into the Gulf of Mexico until relatively recent geologic time. Instead, the basins formed by the opening of the Rio Grande rift were initially
bolson A bolson is a desert valley or Depression (geology), depression, usually draining into a Sink (geography), playa or salt pan, and entirely surrounded by recently Geologic uplift, uplifted hills or mountains. Bolsons are sites of active deposition o ...
s, with no external drainage and a central . An axial river existed in the Espanola Basin as early as 13 million years ago, reaching the Santo Domingo Basin by 6.9 million years ago. However, at this time, the river drained into a playa in the southern
Albuquerque Basin The Albuquerque Basin (or Middle Rio Grande Basin) is a structural basin within the Rio Grande rift in central New Mexico. It contains the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Albuquerque. Geologically, the Albuquerque Basin is a half-graben that slope ...
where it deposited the . The upper reach of this river corresponded to the modern
Rio Chama The Rio Chama, a major tributary river of the Rio Grande, is located in the U.S. states of Colorado and New Mexico. The river is about long altogether. From its source to El Vado Dam its length is about , from El Vado Dam to Abiquiu Dam is about ...
, but by 5 million years ago, an ancestral Rio Grande draining the eastern
San Juan Mountains The San Juan Mountains is a high and rugged mountain range in the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Colorado Colorado (, other variants) is a U.S. state, state in the Mountain states, Mountain West region of the United States. It encompasses ...

San Juan Mountains
had joined the ancestral Rio Chama. The ancestral Rio Grande progressively integrated basins to the south, reaching the Palomas basin by 4.5 million years, the Mesilla basin by 3.1 million years, to Texas by 2.06 million years, and finally joining the Pecos River at 800,000 years to drain into the Gulf of Mexico. Volcanism in the Taos Plateau reduced drainage from the San Luis Basin until a spillover event 440,000 years ago that drained Lake Alamosa and fully reintegrated the San Luis Basin into the Rio Grande watershed.


Prior to European contact

Archeological sites from the earliest human presence in the Rio Grande valley are scarce, due to
Pleistocene The Pleistocene ( , often referred to as the ''Ice Age'') is the geological Epoch (geology), epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the earth’s most recent period of repeated glaciations. Before a change finally ...
and
Holocene The Holocene ( ) is the current geological epoch In geochronology, an epoch is a subdivision of the geologic timescale that is longer than an age (geology), age but shorter than a period (geology), period. The current epoch is the Holocene E ...
river incision River incision is the narrow erosion caused by a river or stream that is far from its base level. River incision is common after tectonic uplift of the landscape. Incision by multiple rivers result in a dissected landscape, for example a dissected ...
or burial under the Holocene floodplain. However, some early sites are preserved on
West Mesa 300px, View of downtown Albuquerque and the Manzano Mountains from the West Mesa The West Mesa is an elevated landmass lying west of the Rio Grande The Rio Grande ( or ; known in Mexico as Río Bravo del Norte, or simply Río Bravo) is one of ...
on the west side of the Rio Grande near Albuquerque. These include Folsom sites, possibly dating from around 10,800 to 9,700 BCE, that were probably short-term sites such as buffalo kill sites. Preservation is better in flanking basins of the Rio Grande Valley, where numerous Folsom sites and a much smaller number of earlier
Clovis Clovis may refer to: People * Clovis (given name), the early medieval (Frankish) form of the name Louis ** Clovis I (c. 466 – 511), the first king of the Franks to unite all the Frankish tribes under one ruler ** Clovis II (c. 634 – c. 657), ...
sites ave been identified. Later
Paleo-Indian Paleo-Indians, Paleoindians or Paleo-Americans, were the first peoples Indigenous peoples, also referred to as First people, Aboriginal people, Native people, or autochthonous people, are culturally distinct ethnic groups who are native to ...
groups included the Belen and Cody cultures, who appear to have taken advantage of the Rio Grande valley for seasonal migrations and may have settled more permanently in the valley. The Paleo-Indian cultures gave way to the
Archaic Archaic is a period of time preceding a designated classical period, or something from an older period of time that is also not found or used currently: *List of archaeological periods **Archaic Sumerian language, spoken between 31st - 26th centu ...
Oshara Tradition Oshara Tradition, the northern tradition of the Picosa culture The Picosa culture encapsulates the Archaic lifestyles of people from three locations with interconnected artifacts and lifestyles. It was named by Cynthia Irwin-Williams in the 1960 ...
beginning around 5450 BCE.Gibbon, Guy E., and Kenneth M. Ames. (1998). ''Archaeology of Prehistoric Native America: An Encyclopedia.'' New York: Taylor and Francis. p. 798. . The Oshara began cultivation of
maize Maize ( ; ''Zea mays'' subsp. ''mays'', from es, maíz after tnq, mahiz), also known as corn (North American North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely within the Western Hemisphere. It can also be ...

maize
between 1750 and 750 BCE, and their settlements became larger and more permanent. Drought induced the collapse of the
Ancestral Puebloan The Ancestral Puebloans were an ancient Native American culture that spanned the present-day Four Corners boy on horseback in Monument Valley Monument Valley ( nv, Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii, , meaning ''valley of the rocks'') is a region o ...
culture, at
Chaco Canyon Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a United States National Historical Park National Historic Site (NHS) is a designation for an officially recognized area of national historic significance in the United States. An NHS usually contains ...

Chaco Canyon
and elsewhere across the Four Corners region, at around 1130 CE. This led to a mass migration of the Ancestral Puebloans to the Rio Grande and other more fertile valleys of the Southwest. This led to decades of conflict (the Coalition Period), the eventual merging of cultures, and the establishment of most of the
Tewa upright=1.25, Chaiwa, a Tewa girl with a butterfly whorl hairstyle, photographed by Edward S. Curtis in 1922 The Tewa are a linguistic group of Pueblo In the Southwestern United States, Pueblo (capitalized) refers to the Native tribes of ...
pueblos The Puebloans or Pueblo peoples, are Native Americans in the Southwestern United States who share common agricultural, material, and religious practices. Pueblo, which means "village" in Spanish, was a term originating with the Colonial Spanish ...

pueblos
of the Rio Grande valley. This was followed by the Classic Period, from about 1325 CE to 1600 CE and the arrival of the Spanish. The upper Rio Grande valley was characterized by occasional periods of extreme drought, and the human inhabitants make extensive use of gridded gardens and check dams to stretch the uncertain water supply.


Spanish exploration

In 1519, a
Spanish Spanish may refer to: * Items from or related to Spain: **Spaniards, a nation and ethnic group indigenous to Spain **Spanish language **Spanish cuisine Other places * Spanish, Ontario, Canada * Spanish River (disambiguation), the name of several ...

Spanish
naval expedition along the northeastern coast of
Mexico Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country A country is a distinct territorial body or political entity A polity is an identifiable political entity—any group of people who have a collective identity, who are organi ...

Mexico
charted the mouths of several rivers including the . In 1536, the Río Bravo appeared for the first time on a map of
New Spain New Spain, officially the Viceroyalty of New Spain ( es, Virreinato de Nueva España, ), or Kingdom of New Spain, was an integral territorial entity of the Spanish Empire The Spanish Empire ( es, link=no, Imperio Español), also known as th ...

New Spain
produced by a royal Spanish cartographer. In the autumn of 1540, a military expedition of the
Viceroyalty of New Spain New Spain, officially the Viceroyalty of New Spain ( es, Virreinato de Nueva España, ), or Kingdom of New Spain, was an integral territorial entity of the Spanish Empire The Spanish Empire ( es, link=no, Imperio Español), also known as t ...

Viceroyalty of New Spain
led by
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado Francisco is the Spanish and Portuguese form of the masculine given name '' Franciscus''. In Spanish, people with the name Francisco are sometimes nicknamed " Paco": San Francisco de Asís was known as Pater Comunitatis (The Community father) whe ...
, , reached the Tiwa pueblos along the Rio Bravo in the future
New Mexico ) , population_demonym = New Mexican ( es, Neomexicano, Neomejicano, Nuevo Mexicano) , seat = Santa Fe , LargestCity = Albuquerque , LargestMetro = Greater Albuquerque , OfficialLang = None , Languages = English English usually refer ...

New Mexico
. On July 12, 1598, Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar established the
New Spain New Spain, officially the Viceroyalty of New Spain ( es, Virreinato de Nueva España, ), or Kingdom of New Spain, was an integral territorial entity of the Spanish Empire The Spanish Empire ( es, link=no, Imperio Español), also known as th ...

New Spain
colony of Santa Fe de Nuevo Méjico at the new village of San Juan de los Caballeros adjacent to the
Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo Ohkay Owingeh potters at work, 1937. Pottery making was historically important in the economy of San Juan, and continues today at Ohkay Owingeh. Ohkay Owingeh (pronounced in Tewa , Navajo ''Kin Łichííʼ'') is a census-designated place (CDP) in ...
at the confluence of the Río Bravo and the Río Chama.


Since 1830

During the late 1830s and early 1840s, the river marked the disputed border between Mexico and the nascent
Republic of Texas The Republic of Texas ( es, República de Tejas) was a sovereign state A sovereign state is a polity, political entity represented by one centralized government that has sovereignty over a geographic area. International law defines sovere ...

Republic of Texas
; Mexico marked the border at the
Nueces River The Nueces River is a river in the U.S. state In the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily lo ...
. The disagreement provided part of the rationale for the in 1846, after Texas had been admitted as a new state. Since 1848, the Rio Grande has marked the boundary between Mexico and the United States from the twin cities of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, to the Gulf of Mexico. As such, crossing the river was the escape route used by some Texan slavery, slaves to seek freedom. Mexico had liberal colonization policies and had abolished slavery in 1828. In 1899, after a gradual change to the river position, a channel was dug for flood control which moved the river, creating what was called Cordova Island, which became the center of the Chamizal dispute. Resolving the dispute took many years and almost resulted in a Chamizal dispute#Disputes and controversy (1899–1963), 1909 combined assassination attempt on the American and Mexican presidents.


Rio Grande Water Rights (1900-present)

Following the approval of the Rio Grande Project by federal lawmakers in 1905, the waters of the Rio Grande were to be divided between the states of New Mexico and Texas based on their respective amount of irrigable land. The project also accorded of water annually to Mexico in response with the country's demands. This was meant to put an end to the many years of disagreement concerning rights to the rivers flow and the construction of a dam and reservoir at various location on the river between the agricultural interests of the Mesilla Valley and those of El Paso, Texas, El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, Juárez. In the agreement provisions were made to construct Elephant Butte Dam, Elephant Butte dam on public lands. This act was is the first occurrence of congressionally directed allocation of an interstate river (although New Mexico would not achieve statehood till 1912). Following the admittance of New Mexico into the union, the increased settlement of the Rio Grande farther north in Colorado and near Albuquerque, the Rio Grande Compact, 1938 Rio Grande Compact developed primarily because of the necessary repeal of the Rio Grande embargo among other issues. Though both Colorado and New Mexico were initially eager to begin negotiations, they broke down over whether Texas should be allowed to join Negotiation, negotiations in 1928, though it had representatives present. In an effort to avoid litigation of the matter in the Supreme Court of the United States, Supreme Court a provisional agreement was signed in 1929 which stated that negotiations would resume once a reservoir was built on the New Mexico-Colorado state line. The construction of this was delayed by the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Market Crash of 1929. With negotiations remaining stagnant, Texas sued New Mexico over the issue in 1935, prompting the intervention of the Franklin D. Roosevelt, president who set up the Rio Grande Joint Investigation the findings of which helped lead to the final agreement. The 1938 Rio Grande Compact provided for the creation of a compact commission, the creation of Stream gauge, gaging stations along the river to ensure flow amounts by Colorado to New Mexico at the state line and by New Mexico to Elephant Butte Reservoir, the water once there would fall under the regulation of the Rio Grande Project which would guarantee provision to Texas and Mexico. A system of debits and credits was created to account for variations in the water provided. The compact remains in effect today, though it has been amended twice. In 1944, the US and Mexico signed a treaty regarding the river. Due to drought conditions which have prevailed throughout much of the 21st century, calls for a reexamination of this treaty have been made by locals in New Mexico, Mexico, and Texas. Texas, being the state with the least amount of control over the waterway, has routinely seen an under provision of water since 1992.
In 1997, the US designated the Rio Grande as one of the American Heritage Rivers. Two portions of the Rio Grande are designated National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, one in northern New Mexico and the other in Texas, at Big Bend National Park. In mid-2001, a -wide sandbar formed at the mouth of the river, marking the first time in recorded history that the Rio Grande failed to empty into the Gulf of Mexico. The sandbar was dredging, dredged, but reformed almost immediately. Spring rains the following year flushed the reformed sandbar out to sea, but it returned in mid-2002. By late 2003, the river once again reached the Gulf.


River modifications

The United States and Mexico share the water of the river under a series of agreements administered by the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), US-Mexico. The most notable of these treaties were signed in 1906 and 1944. The IBWC traces its institutional roots to 1889, when the International Boundary Committee was established to maintain the border. The IBWC today also allocates river waters between the two nations, and provides for flood control and water sanitation. Use of that water belonging to the United States is regulated by the Rio Grande Compact, an interstate pact between Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. The water of the Rio Grande is over-appropriated: that is, more users for the water exist than water in the river. Because of both drought and overuse, the section from El Paso downstream through Ojinaga was recently tagged "The Forgotten River" by those wishing to bring attention to the river's deteriorated condition."Rio Grande Sucked Dry for Irrigation, Industry"
CNN Saturday Morning News, (Aired June 9, 2001)
Dams on the Rio Grande include Rio Grande Dam, Cochiti Dam, Elephant Butte Dam, Caballo Dam, Amistad Dam, Falcon Dam, Anzalduas Dam, and Retamal Dam. In southern New Mexico and the upper portion of the Texas border segment, the river's Discharge (hydrology), discharge dwindles. Diversions, mainly for agricultural irrigation, have increased the natural decrease in flow such that by the time the river reaches Presidio, Texas, Presidio, little or no water is left. Below Presidio, the Rio Conchos restores the flow of water. Near Presidio, the river's discharge is frequently zero. Its average discharge is , down from at Elephant Butte Dam. Supplemented by other tributaries, the Rio Grande's discharge increases to its maximum annual average of near Rio Grande City. Large diversions for irrigation below Rio Grande City reduce the river's average flow to at Brownsville and Matamoros.


Climate change

For much of the time since water rights were introduced in the 1890s, the Rio Grande flowed through Las Cruces from February to October each year, but this is subject to climate change. In 2020, the river flowed only from March to September. As of January 2021, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District (Ebid) expected that water shortages would mean the river only flows through Las Cruces from June through July. The water shortages are affecting the local ecosystem and endangering species including Populus fremontii, cottonwood trees and the Willow_flycatcher#E._t._extimus_–_Southwestern_willow_flycatcher, southwestern willow flycatcher.


Crossings

The major international border crossings along the river are at Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, Texas, El Paso; Presidio and Ojinaga; Laredo, Texas, Laredo and Nuevo Laredo; McAllen, Texas, McAllen and Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Reynosa; and Brownsville and Matamoros. Other notable border towns are the Texas/Coahuila pairings of Del Rio, Texas, Del Rio–Ciudad Acuña and Eagle Pass, Texas, Eagle Pass–Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Piedras Negras.


Names and pronunciation

is Spanish language, Spanish for "Big River" and means "Great River of the North". In English language, English, Rio Grande is pronounced either or . In Mexico, it is known as or , meaning (among other things) "furious" or "agitated". Historically, the Puebloans, Pueblo and Navajo peoples also had names for the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo: * ''mets'ichi chena'', Keresan languages, Keresan, "Big River" * , Tewa language, Tewa, "Big River" * ''paslápaane'', Tiwa languages, Tiwa, "Big River" * , Jemez language, Towa, "Great Waters" The four Pueblo names likely antedated the History of New Mexico#Spanish exploration and colonization, Spanish ''entrada'' by several centuries.Source for historical names: Carroll L. Riley, 1995, ''Rio del Norte'', University of Utah Press. * , Navajo language, Navajo, "Female River" (the direction south is female in Navajo cosmology)For the spelling of Navajo terms: Young, Robert W & William Morgan, Sr. ''The Navajo Language. A Grammar and Colloquial Dictionary.'' University of New Mexico Press. Albuquerque, NM: 1987. was most commonly used for the upper Rio Grande (roughly, within the present-day borders of New Mexico) from Spanish colonization of the Americas, Spanish colonial times to the end of the Mexican period in the mid-19th century. This use was first documented by the Spanish in 1582. Early American settlers in South Texas began to use the modern 'English' name Rio Grande. By the late 19th century, in the United States, the name Rio Grande had become standard in being applied to the entire river, from
Colorado Colorado (, other variants) is a state in the Mountain West The Mountain West Conference (MW) is one of the collegiate athletic conferences affiliated with the National Collegiate Athletic Association The National Collegiate Athletic ...

Colorado
to the sea. By 1602, had become the standard Spanish name for the lower river, below its confluence with the Rio Conchos.


Tributaries

The largest tributary of the Rio Grande by discharge (hydrology), discharge is the Rio Conchos, which contributes almost twice as much water as any other. In terms of
drainage basin A drainage basin is any area of land where precipitation collects and drains off into a common outlet, such as into a river, bay, or other body of water. The drainage basin includes all the surface water from surface runoff, rain runoff, snowm ...

drainage basin
size, the Pecos River is the largest.


See also

* Chihuahuan Desert * List of international border rivers * List of longest rivers of Mexico * List of longest rivers of the United States (by main stem) * List of rivers of Colorado * List of rivers of New Mexico * List of rivers of Texas * Rio Bravo, Texas * Rio Grande border disputes * Rio Grande dams and diversions * * Rio Grande Trail * Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River * Trans-Pecos * West Texas


Notes


Further reading

* D¡az, George T. ''Border Contraband: A History of Smuggling across the Rio Grande'' (University of Texas Press, 2015) xiv, 241 pp. * ; Pulitzer Prize * * *


Primary sources

*


External links


Border Stories: the only hand pulled ferry on the Rio Grande (video)

1854 map of Rio Grande entrance
(hosted by th
Portal to Texas History
.

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