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Rio Grande
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Rio Grande

The Rio Grande (called the Río Bravo or, more formally, the Río Bravo del Norte in Mexico) is a river that rises in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, flows through the San Luis Valley, then south into New Mexico through Albuquerque and Las Cruces to El Paso, Texas, on the Mexican border.

The river has, since 1845, marked the boundary between Mexico and the United States from the twin cities of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, to the Gulf of Mexico. As such, it was across this river that Texan slaves fled when seeking their freedom, aided by Mexico's liberal colonization policies and abolitionist stance. (See [1] (PDF).)

The major international border crossings along the river are Ciudad Juárez and El Paso; Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas; McAllen, Texas, and Reynosa, Tamaulipas; and Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Tamaulipas. Other notable border towns are the Texas/Coahuila pairings of Del RioCiudad Acuña and Eagle PassPiedras Negras.

Use of the water of the Rio Grande is regulated by the Rio Grande Compact, an interstate compact between Colorado, New Mexico and Texas; and a treaty between the United States and Mexico. The Rio Grande is over-appropriated, that is, there are more users for the water than there is water in the river. Since the summer of 2003, much of the river from Albuquerque to the Big Bend National Park has been dry. Ecologists fear that unless rainfall returns to normal levels during the next few years and strict water conservation measures are adopted by communities along the river route, the Rio Grande may soon become extinct.

The Rio Grande rises in high mountains and flows for much of its length at high elevation; El Paso is 1147 m (3762 feet) above sea level. In New Mexico the river flows through the Rio Grande Rift from one sediment filled basin to another, cutting canyons between the basins. Anciently the Rio Grande terminated at the bottom of the Rio Grande Rift in Lake Cabeza de Baca. About a million years ago the stream was "captured and began to flow eastward. From El Paso eastward the river flows through desert. Only in the sub-tropical lower Rio Grande Valley is there extensive irrigated agriculture. The river ends in a small sandy delta at the Gulf of Mexico and no longer actually flows into the Gulf.

See also