Skip to main content
Select Source:

Rio Grande (river, United States and Mexico)

Rio Grande (rē´ō grănd, rē´ō grän´dē), river, c.1,885 mi (3,000 km) long, rising in SW Colo. in the San Juan Mts. and flowing south through the middle of N.Mex., past Albuquerque, then coursing generally southeast as the border between Texas and Mexico, making a big bend (see Big Bend National Park), and eventually emptying into the Gulf of Mexico at Brownsville, Tex., and Matamoros, Mex. Other paired towns along the river are Laredo, Tex., and Nuevo Laredo, Mex. and El Paso, Tex., and Juárez, Mex. The river, known in Mexico as Río Bravo del Norte, is unnavigable except near its mouth, but is now often reduced to a trickle there by drought and the drawing off of water upstream.

The Rio Grande is an important source of internationally regulated irrigation, a use it has long been put to. Pueblos were thriving on its banks N of Las Cruces, N.Mex., and the Native Americans were practicing irrigation of the arid country, when Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado arrived (1540). Today, dams on the Rio Grande are used for irrigation, flood control, and regulation of the river flow. Elephant Butte Dam (completed 1916) and Caballo Dam (completed 1938) in New Mexico create reservoirs that serve large areas. Further downstream N of Del Rio, Tex., is the Amistad Dam (completed 1969); it is 6 mi (9.7 km) long and impounds a huge reservoir; Amistad National Recreation Area is there. Below Laredo are Falcon Dam (completed 1954) and its large reservoir. Near the mouth of the Rio Grande is the irrigation-dependent citrus-fruit and truck-farm region commonly called the Rio Grande Valley and developed principally in the 1920s. An agreement between the United States and Mexico in 1944 provided for future distribution of the river's water, but in drought years the amount reaching the United States is often less than what is called for under the treaty.

Shifts in the river's channel have led to border disputes between the United States and Mexico. Parts of its bed have been stabilized by canalization, and an international border commission mediates disputes. The 114-year controversy over the location of the border at El Paso was finally settled in 1968 when the water of the Rio Grande was diverted into a concrete channel. A 191-mi (307-km) section of the river on the American shore below Big Bend National Park is protected as the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River (see National Parks and Monuments, table).

See R. E. Riecker, Rio Grande Rift (1979); P. Horgan, Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History (2 vol., 1984).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Rio Grande (river, United States and Mexico)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Rio Grande (river, United States and Mexico)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rio-grande-river-united-states-and-mexico

"Rio Grande (river, United States and Mexico)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rio-grande-river-united-states-and-mexico

Rio Grande

RIO GRANDE

RIO GRANDE, a North American river, thirteen hundred miles of which form the boundary separating the United States and Mexico. It is the fifth longest river in North America. It rises in the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado and flows generally southward through New Mexico until it reaches El Paso, Texas. It then flows generally to the southeast until it empties into the Gulf of Mexico at Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico.

After the Louisiana Purchase, American expansionists claimed the Rio Grande as the southern and western border of the territory covered by that purchase, but Spain successfully insisted on the Sabine River as the border. After Mexican independence from Spain in 1821, numerous American colonies sprang up in Texas. Still, dispute over the Texas-Mexican border was one of the main causes of the Texas Revolution in 1835–1836.

The Texas Republic maintained that the Rio Grande constituted its southern and western boundaries. The United States inherited those claims with the annexation of Texas in 1845, but Mexico's unwillingness to accept the river as the boundary was an immediate cause of the Mexican-American War. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the war, recognized the river as an international border.


The Rio Grande is not important as a trade route, but its waters have long been important for irrigation in the arid southwest. In prehistoric times, the Pueblo of New Mexico built elaborate irrigation systems. In modern times, irrigation water from the Rio Grande supports the commercially important citrus and truck farm regions in the Rio Grande Valley in both Texas and Mexico. Cooperation between the two countries has resulted in various irrigation and flood-control projects, the most spectacular being the vast Amistad Dam.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Francaviglia, Richard, and Douglas W. Richmond, eds. Dueling Eagles: Reinterpreting the U.S.-Mexican War, 1846–1848. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 2000.

Kelley, Pat. River of Lost Dreams: Navigation on the Rio Grande. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.

Rivera, José, A. Acequia Culture: Water, Land, and Community in the Southwest. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998.

Donald W.Hunt/a. e.

See alsoGuadalupe Hidalgo, Treaty of ; Rivers ; Spain, Relations with .

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Rio Grande." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Rio Grande." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/rio-grande

"Rio Grande." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved July 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/rio-grande

Rio Grande

Rio Grande (Rio Bravo del Norte) River in North America. It rises in the San Juan mountains of sw Colorado, USA, and flows s through New Mexico. It forms the border between Texas and Mexico, and empties into the Gulf of Mexico just e of Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico. One of North America's longest rivers, it is unnavigable and is used for irrigation and hydroelectricity. Length: c.3035km (1885mi).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Rio Grande." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Rio Grande." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rio-grande

"Rio Grande." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved July 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rio-grande