By Sean Sullivan
On July 12, monsoons washed through the Nogales, Sonora area and caused major flooding on the Mexican side of the border. In some places five feet of water was pooled up along the border wall and there were reports of cars floating away. What caused this flood?
As reported in the AZ Daily Star, Mexican officials blame an illegally built wall for the devastating flood. The Border Patrol built a 5 foot wall within a drainage tunnel near a port of entry without notifying the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC).
The IBWC is comprised of officials from Mexico and the U.S. They are charged with seeking solutions to issues pertaining to sanitation, water quality, and flood control in the border region. The 5 foot wall was built by Border Patrol in January of this year. Traditionally, the IBWC is consulted when projects built on either side of the border will have an impact on stormwater runoff. However, Border Patrol never contacted the IBWC.
Mexican officials with the IBWC have submitted a formal complaint claiming that the wall reduced water flows within the drainage tunnel. As a result, concrete drainage structures failed and released torrents of water into the streets of the Nogales, Sonora. U.S. officials are still investigating the matter.
Complete disregard for the law and respect for other agencies and communities within the border region is now rampant within the Department for Homeland Security (DHS). This year DHS waived over 30 federal laws in order to construct hundreds of miles of border walls. Now the Border Patrol has failed to consult with the organization responsible for bi-national flood control and has endangered the residents of Nogales.
We know that border infrastructure is having devastating impacts on wildlife and ecosystems. The Nogales flood shows us that border communities also face environmental injustices. The flood caused millions of dollars in damages and destroyed many businesses in a low income community. Floods such as this can soil drinking water, spread hazardous materials, and create breeding grounds for various types of mold that can pose a health risk to people.
The infrastructure being utilized by DHS along the U.S./Mexico border continues to result in devastating impacts not only to the natural environment, but to communities as well. The Nogales flood could very well be a portent of what could occur along the lower Rio Grande Valley. There are many communities in the vicinity of the walls being constructed along that stretch of the border. This incident is yet another tarnished example of how U.S. border policy fails and instead places people and the environment at risk.
Sean Sullivan is the Co-Chair for the Sierra Club's Rincon Group in southern Arizona.