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Former SA journalist paddles entire length of Rio Grande

Colin McDonald spent 7 months on the river

SAN ANTONIO – It was over a year ago that Colin McDonald, a former environmental journalist for the San Antonio Express-News, stepped away from his desk job and decided to set out on a journey few people have attempted before: traversing the entire length of the Rio Grande. His goal was to bring awareness to what he called a "disappearing river".

"I started on June 20 at Stony Pass in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado," said McDonald. 

These are the headwaters of the nearly 1,900-mile long river. According to McDonald, it is a river rich with history and with plenty of stories to tell. 

"They weren't being covered for a broad audience, and that's what I wanted to do," said McDonald.

Video he captured along the way showed a wide range of landscape from raging rivers to serene surroundings and everything in between. 

"I can paddle for two or three days and not see anybody."

We caught up with McDonald near Brownsville as he was set to finish the last leg of his seven month expedition. He told stories of his encounters, from interactions with locals, to interviews he conducted with Pueblo Indians in New Mexico over water rights. He ventured into Mexico, to explain differences between how water from the river is utilized by Mexico and the United States.   

"This river has basically been governed by 19th century water law, but is trying to deal with 21st century problems," said McDonald. 

McDonald also explained that parts of the Rio Grande in Texas cannot be paddled, because it is dried up.  He walked these parts of the expedition. 

"It's called the forgotten reach because it's left out, there's no water there, and there's no people," he said.

All along his journey, McDonald took water samples to test water quality.  He found much of the river to be clean, despite raw sewage flowing into the river from Nuevo Laredo.  He also studied the impact of global warming on the waterway. 

In the end, McDonald believed his journey restored his faith in humanity. 

"I was taken in by the police chief of Eagle Pass; taken in by biologists in New Mexico; just people that have incredible insight and passion about the river," said McDonald.

It was a seven-month journey of a lifetime, according to the journalist. 

"Being able to just head out and paddle, and find out what's around the river bend, it's been a kick."

To view and read about his entire expedition, click here.

 


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