Washington, DC – U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has secured the final approval to erect three sections of a border wall in the floodplain of the Rio Grande, according to documents recently obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Officials are disregarding warnings that these new 14 miles of barriers could block flood water from draining into the Rio Grande, bottling it up in towns and farm land and significantly worsening damage inflicted.
These three border wall sections will consist of concrete bollards spaced four inches apart and topped by as much as 15 feet of steel fencing. If the bollards become choked with storm debris, the structures will function as dams, deflecting water out of the river channel and perhaps even changing the channel of the River itself (and thus our border). The wall sections are slated to be placed in the Rio Grande floodplain adjacent to the communities of Roma, Rio Grande City and Los Ebanos.
Final permission came in an unannounced about-face by an obscure agency, United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), this past February. Since 2007, the USIBWC, which jointly oversees border flood control facilities with its Mexican counterpart, had consistently refused to approve construction of border walls in the floodplain or any structures that could not be removed in the event of a flood. The USIBWC action came in the form of a letter from its engineer declaring the agency “has no objection to the erection of the fence segments within the limits of the Rio Grande floodplain.” This reversal is surprising in several regards because it –
- Ignores the protest of the Mexican government. The Principal Engineer of the Mexican IBWC wrote that “the fence would occupy nearly all of the hydraulic area on the U.S. side, causing the deflection of flows towards the Mexican side”;
- Comes with the admission that the USIBWC did “not review these fence projects for any potential environmental impacts.” The new border walls slice through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, established to create a wildlife corridor along the Rio Grande; and
- Dispenses with the requirement that “License or permit is required from the USIBWC for any proposed activities crossing or encroaching upon the floodplains….”
“Customs and Border Control is exempt from every law designed to prevent this very type of disastrous stupidity, but common sense and decency demand that this dangerous and misguided project go back on the shelf,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to the fact that Congress set aside virtually all environmental and resource protection laws on border security matters. “While Customs and Border Patrol are exempt from certain control statutes, the USIBWC is not.”
PEER is asking in a letter sent today that the USIBWC explain why its approval does not violate our treaty with Mexico, various environmental laws and its own rules.
In a related matter, USIBWC maintains two gigantic storage dams on the Rio Grande, which the agency has conceded pose extreme threats of massive downstream flooding. PEER is currently suing USIBWC to force release of reports concerning the admittedly hazardous conditions of these dams, as well as inundation maps for the communities that lie downstream.