MISSION, Texas (Border Report) — Despite water restrictions imposed on Rio Grande Valley residents due to an ongoing drought, water is being taken from irrigation canals for use on nearby border barrier construction, Border Report has learned.
At a canal south of the town of Mission on Thursday, trucks were seen pumping water and filling tankers with gallons of water that was driven about a half mile away to a construction area near Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, where crews are working on remediation of the border wall.
This is a portion of border wall that was built during the Trump administration but stopped when President Joe Biden took office.
However, after local officials complained that the land and residents were at risk due to gaps in the terrain made during border construction, the Department of Homeland Security last year agreed to fix, or remediate, the affected sections.
And that’s where Border Report found crews working on Thursday and trucks hauling water from a nearby canal.
Marianna Treviño-Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center, says she has been told that her riverfront nonprofit cannot access water from the Rio Grande right now due to emergency procedures put in place by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Rio Grande watermaster.
The National Butterfly Center has water rights to the Rio Grande, but the Rio Grande Watermaster has implemented emergency orders that require all water-rights holders to ask for special permission from his office if they want to access water from the river. And requests must be made during business hours when TCEQ can verify that they have a water balance — not deficit, he said.
“Folks need to call our office and request for any water during normal business hours. That’s an example of a watermaster emergency procedure that’s been enacted,” Rio Grande Watermaster Anthony Stambaugh told Border Report on Thursday.
Emergency watermaster procedures were enacted on July 28 as the water levels in Falcon Reservoir and Amistad Reservoir, upstream, fell below 25%, he said.
“The reservoirs are low,” Stambaugh said. “So it’s a matter of a real-time sense making sure that if someone were to divert that they got enough water to satisfy that diversion.”
Water in the canals, however, is not subject to the emergency order because the water has already been metered by an independent irrigation district and accounted for.
But Treviño-Wright says she does not believe it is right for water to be taken from canals at a time when residents in several Rio Grande Valley cities are under mandatory water conservation measures. Especially, she said, after officials at an emergency meeting held last week by the International Boundary and Water Commission said this entire region is at risk of running out of water if triple-digit heat and the drought continue.
“We’ve been told we cannot take any portion of our allocation right now because the watermaster has reversed everyone’s rights, except for municipal water supplies. Yet, all day, every day, we watch Foremost, Kiewit and the border wall builders siphoning water straight from the canal, which delivers water to the treatment facilities for people homes, schools, hospitals and such,” she said in a written statement.
Stombaugh told Border Report that contractors are clients of the Mission-based United Irrigation District, which operates the canal that was being pumped.
“These contractors are spilling it on the ground, wasting it, trying to reduce the “dust” they create by driving trucks back and forth. It’s totally senseless and a perverse theft of a precious natural resource that’s becoming dangerously scarce,” Treviño-Wright said.
The cities of McAllen, Mission and Brownsville all have implemented water restrictions that limit the number of days per week that residents can water lawns or whether they can wash cars. In some cases, residents face fines of up to $200.