The Rio Grande River, or Rio Bravo del Norte in Mexico, is the centerpiece of an international area of conservation interest and represents one of the most ecologically significant areas in North America. It is the largest river system in the Chihuahuan Desert and has sustained people and wildlife for millennia.
The river has undergone substantial changes in the past century due to construction of dams, increased water use along the river, and long periods of drought. River flow has decreased significantly and there are fewer large flood events, causing the river channel to narrow and sediment to build up over time. Water quality has also become a problem. At least seven species of fish have now disappeared from the Big Bend section of the Rio Grande River, at least five native mussels may be gone, and the Big Bend slider (a species of turtle) may soon disappear.
In response to these concerns, the Chihuahuan Desert Network is implementing a river channel characteristics monitoring program for the Rio Grande River. Knowing how the river is changing over time can help park managers prioritize exotic species control activities, implement habitat restoration and species reintroduction projects, and improve river water quality. This knowledge will also help partners on both sides of the international border work together to preserve and maintain this unique river system.