Climate change impacts are posing escalating threats to rivers throughout the western U.S., endangering their existence along with that of the communities they serve. The crisis facing the Colorado River has been well-documented; similar circumstances are facing The Rio Grande River, as well. The river runs from the Colorado Rockies to the Gulf of Mexico, nearly 1,900 miles downstream, demarking the U.S. – Mexico border.  The river draws from land that is already drought-prone; dams and irrigation diversions have further compromised its water levels, leaving large sections of dry riverbed.  Communities that have relied on the river for decades are faced with a rapidly approaching water crisis, dire predictions estimating the end of supplies in the coming decades.

The Rio Grande supplies the bulk of the water to border communities in both Texas and Mexico, providing drinking water to more than six million people on the U.S. side of the river and irrigation for two million acres of land. Long-standing treaties and water agreements between the U.S. and Mexico prescribe how the water is shared between the two countries and states. Under a water treaty dating to 1944, Mexico agreed to send water from its northern mountains to Texas in exchange for water from the Colorado River. However, relentless drought has prevented Mexico from upholding the agreement for the last 20 years.[1]

In the latter part of the summer, communities throughout the region were facing grim circumstances, and consequently some imposed varying levels of water restrictions or made disaster declarations. However, recent weather patterns have brought needed relief to much of Texas - not the hurricane or tropical storm many had hoped for, but enough precipitation to take a large percentage of the state out of extreme and exceptional drought conditions. This, unfortunately, is the normal cycle for this part of the state: drought conditions persist inciting fear that water supplies will disappear which then prompts consideration of ways to mitigate the crisis, and then relief comes in the form of precipitation, relaxing the urgency for future water planning.  In a town hall meeting this summer with farmers, Xochitl Torres -Small, undersecretary for rural development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated, “Whenever we start talking about water scarcity it seems to rain just in time to put it off for a little bit longer.”[2]

The concurrent concern to water shortages is funding. Executing on plans to conserve water or find alternative sources takes funding, and there isn’t enough available to cover the costs of meaningful change. As climate change persists and periods of drought become longer and temperatures higher, the pressure will increase on these communities to make the hard decisions because at some point that rainy day isn’t going to come.[3]

[1] Weisbrod, Katelyn. “Drifting toward Disaster: The (Second) Rio Grande.” Inside Climate News, 6 Sept. 2022,

[2] Weisbrod, Katelyn. “Drifting toward Disaster: The (Second) Rio Grande.” Inside Climate News, 6 Sept. 2022,