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I n Julythe U. Sixty feet wide, the tract consisted of a short caliche road and a craggy riverbank overgrown with carrizo cane and mesquite. There, the Bush administration planned to build an foot-high steel fence, part of roughly miles of border wall that Congress had mandated. The wall, however, would never be in built in Roma, or anywhere else in Starr County: Federal engineers in both the U.
It was no idle speculation. Over the course of three days in the summer ofHurricane Alex dumped more than two feet of rain on Northeast Mexico, overwhelming reservoirs and prompting dam releases along the Rio Grande. In Roma, floodwaters swallowed RGC, climbing some 15 feet up the bluff. Had the fence been built, it would have been nearly submerged and might have washed away. When the floodwaters receded, much of RGC had simply vanished downstream. Elsewhere in the county, the same thing occurred: Land seized by the government was seized by the river.
Today, despite the lesson imparted inthe Trump administration has revived the dream of walling off flood-prone Starr County.
Much of the barrier would slice through the Rio Grande floodplain. Customs and Border Protection has not addressed how that technology might fare underwater. The plan means the government will soon seize new, wider swaths of property almost exactly where the river swallowed RGC nine years ago Women want sex Escobares a proposal that South Texas landowners and border-wall opponents view as reckless and absurd. Beyond fences hurtling downstream, the wall poses hydrological threats to fronterizos on both sides of the Rio Grande. Had the fence been in place, more water would have been shunted south, a threat to Mexican lives and a potential violation of a U.
New documents obtained by the Observer show that the administration is relying on flood assessments that experts say are based on unreliable assumptions at best, and, at worst, reverse-engineered to downplay flooding risks. If anyone in Washington, D. A fter George W. All of it was built on or behind existing river levees, an approach that mostly eliminated flooding concerns. But there are no levees in Starr County and far-western Hidalgo, and the urban areas that punctuate the otherwise rural swath of thornscrub are developed right up to the Rio Grande.
A decade ago, by seizing riverbank land like RGC, the Bush administration showed a preference for long-term flooding risks over immediate displacement of people. IBWC polices the border by policing the river. From toboth the Mexican and American sections of the agency stood firm against the much larger and more politically powerful Department of Homeland Security, preventing the erection of 14 miles of border fence in Roma, Rio Grande City and the tiny town of Los Ebanos. Over the course of three years, IBWC rejected a series of CBP flood studies on those 14 miles, insisting the data showed unacceptable flooding impacts along the river.
Byfunding to build the border wall had evaporated, and it looked like the Starr County wall was dead in the water. The U. IBWC broke with its Mexican counterpart, ing off on a new study that used controversial software and a different set of assumptions.
In the past, Michael Baker International, the engineering firm hired to do the studies, had analyzed a worst-case scenario in which the fence would become completely clogged with debris during a flood, creating an impermeable barrier that would push the swelling river farther into Mexico.
Now, the firm dropped that worst-case scenario and instead posited a mere 10 to 25 percent blockage, yielding much more favorable. In Februarythe Mexican IBWC obtained a copy of the software and ran its own test, getting a wildly different result: Flooding would increase on the Mexican side by 40 to percent, blowing past the treaty threshold of 5 percent. Nonetheless, the U. IBWC unilaterally approved the fence project in Though Mexico never withdrew its opposition, the issue went quiet as funding to build the fence vanished.
Until, of course, a Manhattan billionaire won the U. Quietly, the agency also paid Michael Baker International to do a new flood studyfinalized in Women want sex Escobaresof a mile stretch including all of Starr County and Los Ebanos.
This time the firm used standard government-developed open-source software. But yet again, the engineers changed the inputs, now positing 35 percent obstruction across the entire stretch, offering no justification for the new assumption. Larry Dunbar, a Houston environmental engineer who formerly worked for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the assumption is conjecture.
Even so, the report reveals flooding threats. Dunbar cautioned that even slight increases in flooding matter. The study ignores how the fence might block water draining toward the river through arroyos and paved streets, causing the deluge to back up into Texas border towns. The agencies, he added, would continue collaborating on the rest of the wall. In Roma, Arroyo Roma slices through the town from northwest to southeast; normally dry, the stream suddenly raged that morning, filling houses in the floodplain with up to five feet of water.
In all, some 1, homes were flooded in the area, prompting more than evacuations and causing millions of dollars in damage. Similar scenarios have played out in Arizona. On at least three occasions between andborder fencing in southern Arizona was clogged with debris after monsoon rains swelled southbound washes, leading to major flood damage in the areas of Lukeville and Nogales.
On two of those occasions, and foot sections of fence collapsed. For the last year, Guerra has been dogged not only by visions of worsened flooding, but also by a lack of basic transparency. For months, he and other city officials begged CBP to tell them exactly where the wall would go in their community. Would residents near the river be displaced? It was too early in the process to know, CBP insisted.
The information was not available. Then, in January, a federal contractor posted a ream of documents on a website for subcontractors interested in bidding on a wall contract. Those documents, which were leaked to the Observer and the McAllen Monitor, included the flood analysis that Baker had quietly finalized eight months earlier and a set of preliminary engineering des that showed in great detail where the wall would be located in Roma, Rio Grande City and La Grulla. Guerra first learned of the detailed plans for his town from press s. Noel Benavides, a year-old former Roma city councilman whose family roots in the town date back to the s, said the lack of transparency stretches back a decade.
He had also drawn his own alternative proposals onto the map. That would leave room for a new staging area for imports and exports. He had also compiled renderings of a low concrete retaining wall, an alternative structure that would be less disruptive for the town.
Guerra had planned to present that information at a meeting between CBP and Starr County officials held the day before I arrived in Roma, part of a new consultation process mandated by Congress in February. A CBP spokesperson confirmed those plans. In a way, Guerra finds himself back where he started: wondering where the wall will go. CBP officials, Guerra said, made Women want sex Escobares priorities clear during the meeting: Border Patrol concerns were paramount, followed by treaty obligations, then local concerns. Plus, Congress stipulated that its funding was only for steel fence des, likely nixing the retaining wall idea.
A ring of 19th-century buildings made of river sandstone, caliche limestone and molded brick, the plaza feels Women want sex Escobares something yanked from an old Western. Guerra and I threaded our way down from the plaza to the area nestled beneath the bluff, where the flood claimed much of RGC How would the feds build around it, Guerra wondered.
Would they pay for its relocation? At times, Guerra said, Republicans in Washington, D. On the Mexican side, he lamented, people still fish and recreate and celebrate holidays; on the U. Rather than a towering wall, he envisions a sort of waterfront promenade, something to restore civic life along the river in his hometown. For a moment, we both just take the river in, its flow low and calm, for now. Gus Bova writes about labor, homelessness, politics, the border, and occasionally other topics. : [ protected] Twitter: gusbova. Most Recent in Education: 1 Reation Letter.
Merwin, Honorary Texan.
The Flood Next Time. In the floodplain of the Rio Grande, Trump's wall threatens to inundate communities on both sides of the border. Donald Trump plans to build his border wall in the Rio Grande floodplain. What could go wrong? Well, everything. Find more stories about the border wall here. Do you think free access to journalism like this is important?
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