EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A local water district’s manager is threatening to sue to stop the construction of a border barrier he fears would jeopardize water for farmers and lead to flooding in Downtown El Paso.
The 30-foot-tall barrier is going up north of the American canal, which already has a 34-foot barrier on the south side facing Mexico, said Jesus Reyes, general manager of El Paso County Water District 1.
The barrier is part of Fiscal Year 2020’s border wall system and is being paid for with Department of Defense counter-narcotics funding, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is supervising a contractor that reportedly began the work last week to the water district’s surprise.
Reyes said he found out about the project when a contractor from Tulsa, Oklahoma told him his workers were coming. He said he had one of his dump trucks placed on the scene to stop the work until he could have a dialogue with CBP, but the workers just moved down the canal.
“The district is perplexed about why CBP is now taking unilateral action without working to mitigate the harm to El Paso,” Reyes said. “CBP has failed to provide any justification for construction a second fence on the U.S. side of the canal.”
Reyes said work on the first fence blocked access from the side facing Mexico to district crews trying to provide maintenance and carrying out operations on the canal. The waterway serves 54,000 acres of farmland in Far West Texas and delivers the water to a municipal treatment plant.
“This second fence would cut off operation and maintenance access to the canal for the area between the two fences,” he said. “That canal is utilized to dispose of storm water. In 2006 that canal paid a huge role in preventing Downtown from being flooded. If such an event would happen again, there would be no way we could get large equipment to maintain the integrity of the canal banks. […] If we don’t stop this, we’re willing to file a lawsuit, a temporary restraining order in federal court.”
In a statement to Border Report, CBP said it would work with the Corps and the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) to ensure water district crews have continued access to the canal.
That’s something Reyes questions. “There won’t be any way to provide maintenance and get our equipment. It’s not like we need to squeeze in a pickup truck. We need to get in dump trucks, excavators and other heavy equipment,” he said.
He added that CBP hasn’t told him why they need a second border fence in an area he calls “one of the most secure and actively patrolled on the entire U.S.-Mexico border.”
But CBP says there’s a reason for that.
The entire El Paso Sector “is a high frequency corridor for illegal migration, human trafficking and drug smuggling by individuals, groups and transnational criminal organizations,” CBP said in the email to Border Report.
The secondary wall in South El Paso is an “operational requirement” within the sector, the agency said.
In the past 14 months, U.S. Border Patrol and local Fire Department officials have responded to numerous calls regarding drownings, water rescues and groups of migrants being spotted coming across the border and trying to make their way past the swift-moving waters of the canal.
On Sept. 4, 2019, the Border Patrol rescued from the canal four men who were part of a group of 11 that crossed the border, and either turned back or were swept away near Sixth Street.
On June 16 this year, the Border Patrol rescued another three migrants struggling to stay afloat in the canal near the Chihuahuita neighborhood.
And on Sept. 1, the Border Patrol and El Paso Fire Department collaborated in pulling five people out of the water in two separate canal rescues in the area.
Reyes said it’s true that at least 18 migrants have died in the canal in recent years but placing a fence north of the canal would only trap those who already came over the fence on the south side. That first fence now has sharp concertina wire that can “seriously injure” those coming over, he said. And with a fence built on the north side, fire trucks will have a hard time coming in to provide timely assistance. “These people will drown,” he said.
Officials from the water district and several federal agencies were supposed to meet Tuesday afternoon to try to iron out a solution, Border Report has learned.