Reining in the Rio Grande - People, Land and Water
By Fred M. Phillips, G. Emlen Hall and Mary E. Black University of New Mexico Press
Reining in the Rio Grande is an intriguing chronicle spanning over 500 years of human habitation and influence on a once mighty river of the West. The geological and hydrological beginnings of the Rio Grande Basin are the backdrop for the story that has the Cochiti Pueblo, still in place today, as a harbinger of change to come: “The earliest Cochiti Pueblo residents revered the river and used it but they did not attempt to fundamentally change it.” Later, Hispanic settlers arriving in the 1590’s brought acequias (Spanish for “communal irrigation canals”) culture to the banks of the river but into the 19th century, “. ..farmers resigned themselves to a water supply on nature’s terms. This was a world in which the rivers - works of nature - had primacy.” With American expansion across the western frontier in the 19th and 20th century, “The rivers that Hispanos and Pueblas considered beyond their control would eventually be harnessed by the new society, using new technologies and new laws.”
The personalities, politics, law suits and multi-state agreements in the last hundred years of history of the Rio Grande share much with Arizona’s water history. The episodes of flooding and drought and the disconnect of surface water and groundwater hydrology resonate with all of us living in the Southwest. Also common to the region is the quest to balance the needs of humans and the needs of the river as increasing demands stretch supplies. As the story unfolds we see how this book reflects a broader picture of human culture and thought and poignantly shows how our view of the natural world has evolved.
Reining in the Rio Grande has close ties to the University of Arizona. Material in the book is based on work supported by SAHRA, the UA center for Sustainability of semi-Arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas, funded through an STC program of the National Science Foundation. Author Mary Black was a writer and editor at SAHRA and is presently special assistant to the Vice- President for Research at UA.