Stories like this really suck:
"For the first time since the 1950s, the Rio Grande has stopped flowing in Big Bend National Park," biologist Raymond Skiles wrote in a "daily report" e-mail distributed from the park's Panther Junction headquarters. "The river is now a series of isolated pools separated by dry, white gravel with no flow. You can walk across without getting your shoe soles wet. The whiteness of river bed gravel feels like a bleached skeleton lying in the sun."
Photographs Skiles took of the river on his last inspection before writing that report were starkly austere and almost unfathomable to anyone with memories of the river at its prime, when it trickled from El Paso and gathered force at Presidio, where it was fed by the Rio Conchos from Mexico and surged to depths of 20 feet through the 1,500-foot canyons of the national park.
Now, schools of dead fish decay in shallow pools depleted of oxygen, trees on the banks are dying and the park's three ecological systems -- marine, desert and mountain -- that existed in unusually close proximity to each other are being reduced to two.
Businesses and farms are impacted by the prolonged drought, as are diplomatic relations between the US and Mexico:
Mexico, bound by a 1944 treaty to release water into the Rio Grande, has fallen into arrears, claiming that its reservoirs on the Rio Conchos are at a mere 18 percent capacity.
Sally Spener, a spokeswoman for the International Boundary and Water Commission in El Paso, says Mexico owes the Rio Grande 1.4 million acre feet of water and "that is an ongoing concern in U.S.-Mexico relations."
"Historically, there was enough rain that Mexico didn't have to manage its system," she says.
Green says Mexican farmers, who depend on the Rio Conchos for irrigation, simply "don't like to release water because after Presidio, it's all recreational" until it exits the national park and pours into the Lower Rio Grande Valley farmlands.
In May, some Mexican farmers created a minor international incident when they built an earthen berm in the Rio Grande riverbed to divert the diminishing flow to their crops.
U.S. authorities destroyed the berm, Spener says, and the loss to the river was not substantial.
"The volume of diversion was about 100 acre feet," she says. "That's not a lot when you consider that Mexico owes us 1.4 million acre feet."