For a recent issue of The New Yorker, staff writer Nick Paumgarten floated the rugged canyons of the Rio Grande to witness the irreplaceable wilderness that Trump’s proposed border wall would destroy. A native New Yorker, Paumgarten fell in love with whitewater on Idaho’s Salmon River as a kid. Paumgarten’s feature, “Water and the Wall,” takes readers through the riparian heart of Big Bend National Park, in a flotilla that includes Teddy Roosevelt’s great-grandson and New Mexico Senator Tom Udall. Damming, diversion, pollution, and overpumping have long degraded the state of America’s rivers, reducing clean rushing waterways into canals with as much wildness as a pet store. Paumgarten’s story shows how heightened border enforcement poses a new environmental threat.
You mention you hadn’t given much thought to the Rio Grande before you began your reporting. Did that lack of knowledge vacuum hinder or help as you started examining the river?
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