My Fake Rio

In honor of World Rivers Day, I rode my bike down to check out the Rio Grande through Albuquerque this morning. That’s really a bit of a cheat. Most weekends I end up riding my bike down to check out the Rio Grande at least once, but it’s World Rivers Day, and water nerds are supposed to think about their rivers, so I did.

Pilons in the Rio Grande, Central Avenue, Albuquerque NM, September 2011

Posts in the Rio Grande, Central Avenue, Albuquerque NM, September 2011

I was thinking about it anyway after my USGS stream gauge alert started firing off Friday when the Rio Grande at the Central Avenue Bridge dropped below 150 cubic feet per second. This is always the dry time of year, with the snowmelt done and the summer rains over and mostly just base flow in the river. But between the dry year and the upstream irrigation diversions, the Rio would probably be dry completely through Albuquerque were it not for the US Bureau of Reclamation releasing water from storage to meet flow targets for the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow. (more on that over at the (probably adwalled) work blog)

N. Reed and and I were discussing what I should choose as my favorite river for my World Rivers Day blog post. I said “Rio Grande”, to which she responded, “But I thought your favorite river was the Colorado?” But then she pointed out that, because of the San Juan-Chama Project importing water from the Colorado Basin, the Rio Grande has a bit of both. So I guess I’m cool.

In fact, right now, one might argue that it’s mostly Colorado River water in the Rio Grande thanks to the USBR minnow flow releases, though the distinction between paper water and wet water makes this very quickly a confusing question. But it’s clear the flows as I stood on the river’s bank this morning were the result of human intervention, as is essentially the entire system – pinned between levees, channelized when it used to meander, buffered by dams upstream.


Willow, Rio Grande, September 2011

All the cool kids are reading Emma Marris’s Rambunctious Garden, which argues that we need to accept and even embrace the fact that there is no pristine nature, no ecosystems left devoid of human engagement and alteration. The book, which I loved, touched a nerve with me, given my fondness for the Rio Grande, however unnatural this vast riverside park through Albuquerque’s middle has become.

I rode my bike across the Central Avenue Bridge (old Route 66) and turned into the woods, down a dirt road to the west side of the river. Out in the shallow water beyond the USGS gauge, I saw these five posts sticking out of the river bed. I assume they’re the remains of the old Route 66 bridge. (Those who have lived around rivers know the central role bridges, or the lack thereof, play in the life of a community.)

Look more closely at the second post from the right. Growing directly out of its top is what looked to me like a willow. That’s a rambunctious garden if I’ve ever seen one.