Advocacy group American Rivers has been putting out a list of the most endangered rivers in the U.S. for 33 years now. This year, the list of 10 includes the Lower Rio Grande in Texas. Its critical threat? Oh, you know, just President Donald Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall.
“It’s important to note that this isn’t a list of the worst rivers or most polluted rivers,” Amy Kober, the national communications director for American Rivers, told Earther. “It’s a list of the most endangered rivers, so what we mean by that is a river facing a critical threat.”
While the Lower Rio Grande, a small portion of the 1,896-mile long Rio Grande river, has been on the list before, this is the first time the river’s made it on because of the border wall. In the $1.3 trillion spending bill Congress passed last month, officials approved more than $1 billion to go toward constructing a wall in Hidalgo and Starr counties in southern Texas, landing the Lower Rio Grande, also known as the Rio Bravo in Mexico, on the list.
The levee wall and fencing would interrupt the water’s flow, according to The Texas Observer. This section of the river is home to the Texas tortoise, the javelina, and some 300 species of butterflies, all of whose habitat would be in peril in the face of a physical barrier. So would the people who live near this water. They’d become more susceptible to flooding as it becomes harder for river water to reach nearby floodplains.
There’s also the (very obvious) human rights aspect to this whole thing: The wall’s meant to keep out real, living, actual people because the president believes they’re all murderous drug dealers and gang bangers when, in reality, they’re scared kids and moms fleeing violence and poverty.
The Lower Rio Grande faced numerous threats before the wall: destructive dams and excessive water withdrawals for agriculture chief among them. This border wall, however, could finally push the river over the edge. Especially considering that the Trump administration has secured environmental review waivers for the infrastructure in California.
“Without that review, we can’t even look before we leap,” Kober said.
In New Mexico, construction has begun where vehicle barriers are now being converted to walls sections. Wall replacements have also begun in California. Will the Lower Rio Grande be next? Probably not without a fight. American Rivers usually accompanies its list with campaigns to push Congress or local governments to protect rivers.