An Expedition on the Disappearing Rio Grande

Last summer, Colin McDonald came into my office in the Texas Tribune newsroom with a proposal. He had been awarded a Ted Scripps Fellowship at the University of Colorado Boulder to prepare for the expedition of a lifetime.

McDonald, a former environment reporter for the San Antonio Express-News, was planning to travel the length of the Rio Grande — on foot and kayak — to document its ongoing disappearing act and to examine its effect on the people and places who rely on the river. 

He was going to raise all the money on his own to fund the work, but McDonald needed an outlet for his journalistic endeavor. He wanted the Trib to host his daily blog posts from the river.

McDonald spent months preparing for the trip and raising the money he would need, about $40,000. Meanwhile, Ryan Murphy, our news apps team lead, designed and built a custom website for the project.

Last month, McDonald embarked on this epic expedition, and we softly launched his website, Disappearing Rio Grande. Now that we've worked out (most of) the kinks on the site and he's had time to document the start of his expedition, we're proud to invite you to follow along. The journey began in the Rocky Mountains, where a fire last summer ripped through the region, leaving a charred forest and its debris in the smoky wake. At each stop along the river, McDonald is gathering data on the water conditions and checking in via satellite. He is talking to people who live on the river and rely on it for their livelihoods, and photographer Erich Schlegel is capturing breathtaking photographs of it all. 

As we do on the Tribune site, McDonald has published the names of all of his donors, and will disclose those relationships in his stories when he writes about anyone who contributed to the project.

The expedition is expected to last seven months, culminating with an event where the Rio Grande flows into the Gulf of Mexico. From time to time, Tribune reporters may join McDonald on the expedition or contribute to his reporting, and you should expect in-depth stories about the Rio Grande and its uncertain future on the Trib site, too. In each new edition of Trib+Water, we'll have a roundup of McDonald's recent blog posts.

We're excited to follow McDonald on this voyage and to support this unique journalistic endeavor. We hope you'll come along.