Friday, November 19, 2010

Homeland Security may Squander $40 million on Environmental Lip Service

By Dan Millis

In 2010 Congress allocated $40 million to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the purpose of "minimizing adverse environmental and other negative impacts" of border wall construction. Environmental mitigation and monitoring work is best done by agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, part of the Department of the Interior (DOI). In fact, the allocation language made it very clear that congress "expects CBP to use these funds to work in coordination with the Department of Interior and other government agencies with responsibilities for environmental policy on the border."

However, it is feared that DHS could instead decide to keep the money, and use it to fund ill-advised and half-hearted attempts to address some of the environmental havoc wreaked by their walls, roads, and infrastructure.

Take Arizona's San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, a U.N. World Heritage Natural Area known for its huge diversity of migratory bird species. Ostensibly to address flooding issues that arise from walls recently built across washes and riverbeds, DHS has been busily constructing and installing "flood gates" such as the one seen below.

The idea is that someone at DHS will predict a storm event in advance, and send a crew of Border Patrol agents or DHS workers out to the dozens of flood gates that have been installed immediately east of the San Pedro, have them toss their winch cables from their jeeps over the pulley at the top, hook on to the eyelet, and winch up these gates so that the water and debris can pass through. Maybe you can give the planners the benefit of a doubt on these small gates. But...

Local rancher Bill Odle shows off DHS's "flood gates" and debris piles

What about these huge gates?!?! They are massive. Locals report that Border Patrol vehicles attempting to open them instead end up winching their own front ends off the ground! Once open, the holes are large enough to drive a pick-up truck through them, which begs the question, why build the wall in the first place?! Of course, predicting the weather in the Southwest is a crapshoot at best, and once the storms begin, access to many areas is often cut off by flash flooding. Debris piled high against the gates indicate to us that these things haven't been opened during recent stroms, which locals say have been relatively mild. It's an example of a half-hatched scheme launched by an agency whose expertise is in security, not environmental planning. The funds sunk in this scheme would have been put to much better use by the experts within the DOI.

Notre Dame students frolic atop a DHS jungle gym

The "flood gates" are one example of mitigation gone wrong. Another is the "cat hole" project in Texas. Concern over the blockage of wildlife migration corridors prompted DHS to retrofit a section of border wall near the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge with a series of doggy doors, each about the size of an 8.5 by 11 inch sheet of notebook paper. For more info on the "cat holes," download our flier:

Mitigation and monitoring needs to be done by the professionals at DOI, which is why DHS needs to give them the funds which have already been appropriated.

Dan Millis is an organizer for the Sierra Club's Borderlands campaign. To read more about the border wall's environmental impacts, and to view the Club's 20-minute documentary Wild vs. Wall, go to

Following flooding in Nogales and the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument the Border Patrol commissioned a report on the walls that cross washes and rivers from El Paso to San Diego. It found that the poorly designed walls were not only damming them, but in many instances their foundations were being undermined. The report is available here: