Author Speaks Series: Rio Grande River’s Past and Future





Fred Phillips / Emlen Hall                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

By Kirsten Laskey

The Rio Grande River is not what it used to be; humans have transformed this river into a highly regulated body of water.

Just how it got this way and what awaits the Rio Grande in the future is among the topics of discussion during the Mesa Public Library’s Author Speaks lecture.

The talk begins at 7 p.m. Thursday in the library’s rotunda.

The speakers, G. Emlen Hall and Fred Phillips, have centered their talk on the book they co-wrote along with Mary Black.

The book is titled “Reigning in the Rio Grande,” and was published by UNM Press. Black, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona, is unable to attend Thursday’s talk.

Phillips, a hydrologist at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, explained that his portion of the talk will emphasize the development of the idea that turned the Rio Grande into a very strongly regulated river, which is reflected in its habitat.

He said he will address how this idea came about and what is in store for the Rio Grande in the future.

Looking ahead for the river, Phillips said “the main challenge is the sort of collision course (between) the change in population in the river basin and climate change.”

He said the climate is becoming hotter and drier while the demand for water is rising.

As the population grows someone or something is going to get shortchanged.

To respond to this challenge, Phillips said the book addresses water conservation such as xeriscape gardening, hydroponic agriculture.

“The thing is for people to be aware that there is an issue for the future and for people in New Mexico to have an opportunity to discuss and think about what they want the river to look like and be used for and have an avenue to move toward that,” he said.

Hall, a law professor at the University of New Mexico, will address how the Rio Grande traditionally impacted the communities that settled next to the river as well as the folklore and stories that the river inspired.

Hall said he’ll focus on San Ysidro and his role in acequia agriculture.

He’ll also address how important the river traditionally was to communities.

Hall explained, “There’s an old Spanish adivinanza (riddle) that goes “En que esta suspendido el mundo (How is the world hung) The answer: Del voluntad de Dios. (From God’s will) Y en ques esta suspendido nuestro pueblo?” (And how is our Pueblo hung?) Del rio.”
Its importance still exists today.

“It’s the spiritual heart of a lot of people still, even if it plays a less direct economic role than it used to,” Hall said.
The Rio Grande holds a lot of fascination for both men.

“It is a very interesting river because … the Rio Grande flows through a desert landscape and … supports a dramatically different ecosystem,” Phillips said.

Hall’s interest has origins in literature.

“I’m a water lawyer and a water historian. See the end of the first chapter of Moby Dick, ‘Loomings,’ which describes me to a T,” he said.

This is the first time both men have participated in the Author Speaks series.

Through this talk, Phillips said he hopes to “just have the chance to share with people from different parts of New Mexico the research we have gathered through this book.”

Hall added he hopes the audience gains “A sense of the River’s amazing and very complex history.”

“You can learn a lot from history,” Hall said. “You have to know the history to know the challenges and you have to respond accordingly. Nobody’s writing on a clean slate.”

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