Friday, October 15, 2010

Unprecedented initiatives for Día del Rio 2010 celebrate the Rio Grande



LAREDO, TX -- An unprecedented host of historic activities will raise environmental awareness and help preserve the ecosystem of the Río Grande/Rio Bravo watershed as part of the 16th Annual Día del Río celebration tomorrow, October 16. A research event never before attempted highlights this year’s lineup of activities, a lineup also including a bi-national relay and the participation of thousands.  Día del Río 2010 is a celebration day that has occurred annually for the past 15 years to highlight the importance of the river that the U.S. and Mexico share.

The municipalities of millions of citizens literally could not exist without the 1,885-mile Río Grande River, known as the Río Bravo in Mexico. North America’s second largest river, it also comprises 65% of the U.S.-Mexico border. The river unites the border community.

Since the river is a shared bi-national resource, the borderland nations protect and celebrate it together. Two organizations established in 1994, the Río Grande International Study Center (RGISC) in Laredo, Texas and el Centro Internacional de Estudios del Río Bravo (CIER) in Nuevo Laredo on the Mexican side of the border,  initiated a series of annual events honoring the watershed they foster. They entitled it simply the Día del Río (River Day), and tomorrow they celebrate the sixteenth.

A grant this year from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Border Environment Cooperation Commission substantially magnified the span of the Día del Río 2010’s activities, which has traditionally featured river clean ups and restoration projects.

Activities for this year’s event—culminating tomorrow, October 16—extend throughout Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, Durango, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas to the estuaries in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as some of the Native American Pueblos.

The Río Research Roundup

Never in the planet’s history has a major watershed had its water tested on the same day, in the same hour, in multiple locations. But school children did just that on October 6 as part of Día del Río’s activities. Nearly 60 schools, 42 on the US side and 17 on the Mexican side, conducted the Río Research Roundup. This “snapshot testing” project, the Río Research Roundup, will serve as a model for watersheds on every continent.

Students, under teacher guidance, used professional scientific water testing kits to measure 10 parameters of the water quality at their section of the watershed. They are now compiling the data to post on the Project WET website. Additionally, they will file video documentation of their efforts on YouTube.

In addition to testing the water, each school also collected water samples in special containers, labeled with their school, state, and portion of the river.

The Río Relay

The students’ water collection features in another important Día del Río activity, linking communities along the river. Beginning at the headwaters in Colorado on October 6, a Río Relay vehicle set out to travel the length of the river, visiting each of the participating roundup schools along the way, in a historic ten day, 1,250 mile journey.

A vehicle representing the Mexico side joined the Río Relay in El Paso/Juárez, the first point at which the river becomes the bi-national border. From there, both vehicles have traveled the remainder of the river, meeting periodically along the way over a series of international bridges, where they crossed to the bridge’s midpoints, meeting at the international line above the river.

At each of the roundup schools, when the vehicle arrives at the students’ respective cities, Río Relay representatives will collect the water samples that the students obtained. The Rio Relay vehicle will transport the artifacts of student research to the headwaters of the river for a special ceremonial pouring of the Río Grande/Río Bravo waters into the Gulf of Mexico’s saltwater estuaries at Boca Chica-Bagdad.

Municipal participation in Día del Río

A celebration of the river that unites eight states in two countries, Día del Río represents an extensive geographic alliance. It was created with the cooperation of nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies, and groups in New Mexico and Texas on the U.S. side, as well as the Mexican states of Durango, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas.

Cities, parks, and organizations will also be holding special events in their local and regional areas along the river in conjunction with Día del Río. This will include kayaking, tree planting, cleanup projects, as well as art and musical events.

Watershed Alliance

During months of planning for Día del Río 2010, scores of organizations and agencies participated in weekly teleconference calls. They are now close to formalizing a vision and mission statement, along with priorities, for galvanizing a watershed‐wide network called the Rio Grande~Rio Bravo Watershed Alliance.

Organizations supporting the Día del Río 2010 event include the International Boundary and Water Commission, La Comision Internacional del Limites y el Agua, World Wildlife Fund, Gulf of Mexico Foundation, River Systems Institute, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Parks and Wildlife, National Wildlife Refuges, Los Caminos del Río, Río Grande Headwaters Land Trust, Río Grande Headwaters Restoration Project, Project WET, and Los Alamos National Laboratory, among others. 
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This post participates in Change.org's Blog Action Day 2010. This year's topic is "water."

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