New Border Wall endangers water supply of unique biodiverse wetlands
First published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, August 15, 2020
By Astrid Galvan, The Associated Press
A report by the Fish and Wildlife Service that was obtained by Defenders of Wildlife, another conservation group that opposes border wall construction, shows that contractors withdrew millions of gallons of water from a well located 1.5 miles from the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, resulting in lower water levels within the refuge and even some empty ponds.
Customs and Border Protection did not respond to questions about the issue sent by the Associated Press.
Randy Serraglio, the Southwest conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Customs and Border Protection ignoring concerns by Fish and Wildlife shows that it’s a “rogue agency.”
“They operate outside the law with no regard for other federal agencies and public lands and natural resources and the national heritage of this country,” Serraglio said. “It’s the only thing they care about, is the wall.”
Dozens of records obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity, which has sued to stop border wall construction, show months of warning from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees in charge of the refuge that went largely ignored.
The agency pleaded with US Customs and Border Protection to refrain from drilling groundwater from any wells within a 5-mile radius of the refuge, using a 2003 study showing that doing so would be detrimental to the water supply.
It did so anyway.
The San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1982 to protect the rare wetlands in the middle of the desert that is home to a variety of wildlife, including several species of fish that are protected by the Endangered Species Act.
Sitting on over 2,300 acres on the U.S.-Mexico border in southeastern Arizona, close to New Mexico, the refuge is home to hummingbirds, 75 species of butterflies, bats and, most importantly, to fish native to Rio Yaqui, which the refuge was set up to protect.
“It’s a pretty magical place,” said Serraglio. “The analogy is an oasis, really. That’s why the water withdrawals are so damaging.”
The refuge itself is supposed to be protected under environmental laws, but the government has waived those in the name of border security.