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Report: Lower Rio Grande Is One of Nation's Most Endangered Rivers, Border Wall is Reason Why


An environmental group released a report this week ranking the lower Rio Grande as one of the country’s most endangered river systems. The reason why: President Trump’s proposed border wall.

Environmental group American Rivers says the 33 miles of proposed border wall in Hidalgo and Starr Counties will threaten the lower Rio Grande.

"You can't wall off a river from its people, from its wildlife and expect anyone to be able to thrive," Amy Kober with environmental group  says. "Rivers are supposed to be, and the Rio Grande should be, a place of connection, a place of opportunity."

In March, Congress approved a $1.3 trillion spending package, which included roughly $614 million to fund construction of a border wall along in the Rio Grande Valley. Earlier this week, construction of President Donald Trump's border wall began in the El Paso sector.

In the Rio Grande area, most of the proposed barrier will go towards "primary pedestrian levee fencing," according to the funding package. American Rivers says this will take the form of a steel fence on top of a large levee, which the group believes could cause destroy the habitats of some animals in the region and lead make flooding worse.

"[The border wall] will cut off the river from it’s floodplain," says Sober. "That could potentially exacerbate flooding and erosion."

For the last 33 years, the environmental nonprofit has released a list of the most at-risk water systems in the country. The last time the Rio Grande was listed was in 2003. At that time the leading concern for the group was excessive pumping in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. This is the first time a specific portion of the river has been listed. 

“The Rio Grande is so much more than a border," Chris Williams, Senior Vice President of Conservation at American Rivers, said in a statement. "Construction of a border wall, unhindered by any meaningful environmental review, disrupts and damages that ecosystem, impacting everything that depends on it."

Officials with Border Patrol have said they take environmental concerns seriously. In the $73 million project to construct 20 miles of barrier began in Santa Teresa, N.M., officials said they consulted with the Bureau of Land Management before beginning. “The environment is just as important to us as anyone else," Border Patrol agent Aaron Hull told media in Santa Teresa.

The environmental group says the river will continue to be at risk if congress continues to fund the construction of border barriers along the 1,200-mile stretch Rio Grande.

"It is crucial that this river, which is the lifeblood of so many communities and ecosystems, be protected from such destruction," says Scott Nichol with the Sierra Club.




Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director.