Off Road Vehicles in the Rio Grande

10/14/20 Update: SWEC has learned that a massive off-road vehicle rally planned for the bed of the Rio Grande on consecutive Saturdays (10/10/20 and 10/17/20) has been cancelled, at least for this year. The organizers were apparently unable to obtain the necessary permits in time from the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission. Thanks to all of you who contacted IBWC and other officials to voice your opposition to this event. 

Original Article: The Southwest Environmental Center has joined with Mesilla Valley Audubon Society and the Las Cruces chapter of NM Native Plant Society to send a letter to the federal agency that manages the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico voicing our opposition to a massive off-road vehicle event planned for the Rio Grande.

The Fourth Annual “River Run” is a major off-road vehicle rally planned for October 10 and 17. The event has been advertised throughout several western states, including COVID hotspots Arizona and Texas. Based on last year’s attendance and the Facebook page for this year’s events (934 people going and 1,900 people interested as of October 5), hundreds of vehicles will “drive” the riverbed potentially from the Mesilla Dam all the way to Shalem Colony Trail bridge.

Concerns listed in the letter to the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) included: harm to wildlife, especially migratory birds, and habitat, harm to riparian vegetation and erosion of the riverbank, damage to IBWC restoration projects, oil and other vehicle fluids polluting the river and sand, noise and dust interfering with property owners along the river, the safety threat to children and families playing along the river at the same time, and, of course, the potential for COVID exposure.

Although the river is beginning to dry now due to curtailment of irrigation water releases from upstream reservoirs, it still provides important habitat for a variety of wildlife, including beaver, raccoons, muskrats, frogs, turtles and, of course, fish. The pools in the channel this time of year are particularly important to migrating shore birds and waterfowl, like sandhill cranes, that use the pools for foraging for food and protection from predators. As the pools dry, the fish will eventually die but not before providing food for birds, raccoons, and other wildlife.

You can read a copy of our letter here.


There are other places that have been designated for use by ATVs. If the river and its wildlife and wild plants are important to you—and we know they are—we urge you to:

(1) Contact IBWC Commissioner Jayne Harkins at or 1-800-262-8857 and let her know you do not believe this is an appropriate use of our fragile Rio Grande and IBWC should not grant a permit for the event.

(2) Contact the Doña Ana County Sheriff Kim Stewart at (575) 525-1911 and let her know you believe enforcement action must be taken against vehicles trespassing in the river bed for not only these River Run events, but for all vehicular trespassing violations in the river.

(3) Contact your city councilor and your county commissioner to let them know you do not believe this is an appropriate use of our fragile Rio Grande.