Water pumping for border wall threatens aquatic species, environmentalists say

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A sign marks the entrance to the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge in remote southeastern Arizona where a border wall is being built. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

HARLINGEN, Texas (Border Report) — An environmental group believes several endangered aquatic species are at risk of extinction due to the amount of groundwater being pumped to make concrete to build segments of border wall near a national wildlife refuge in southeastern Arizona.

The nonprofit organization Defenders of Wildlife on Monday said they have obtained a report showing a decrease in the water table near the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge that threatens several endangered fish species.

A giant tank is seen on Nov. 8, 2019, where groundwater pumped from the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge in remote southeastern Arizona. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“This is the kind of evidence that shows just how critical the water level situation is in San Bernardino refuge and how the border wall is driving species closer to extinction. The levels have become dangerously low due to wall construction and now it’s to the point that refuge personnel must dry some ponds to allow others to have enough water for endangered species to survive. Without intervention, it is all too likely that some species may be lost forever,” Jacob Malcom, the group’s director of the center for conservation innovation said in a statement.

The report written by an employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is the federal agency that manages the wildlife refuge, shows a decrease in groundwater tables at the Glenn Ranch Well that contractors are pumping to build a segment of border wall through the wildlife refuge, the group says.

Construction crews can be seen on Nov. 8, 2019, putting up the first border wall panels in the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Arizona. Crews began work in a remote valley of the refuge and are drawing groundwater to make concrete, environmentalists say. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez).

Much of the area sits atop an artesian well field located in this unique biologically diverse ecosystem dubbed the “crossroads of the North American continent” because it is where four diverse ecological areas converge: the Rocky Mountains; the Sierra Madre Mountains, the Chihuahuan Desert and the Sonoran Desert. It is a lush desert grasslands valley where threatened animals like jaguars and the white-sided jackrabbit have been spotted, and it is home to the only native catfish west of the Mississippi River, the Yaqui catfish.

Aside from the Yaqui catfish, the refuge also is home to the following endangered aquatic species: the beautiful shiner fish, Yaqui chub, Yaqui topminnow, Chiricahua leopard frog and Mexican garter snake. The area also is home to the endangered Huachuca water umbel water plant.

“There are at least seven endangered species that are under threat from lowered water levels,” Rebecca Bullis, a spokeswoman for Defenders for Wildlife told Border Report on Monday. “No one can say for sure they will be extinct but based on this data these are aquatic species and they need these habitats to survive.”

Source: “Time Series Analysis for San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge Mitigation Well and Glenn Well Ranch” report by U.S. Fish and Wildlife employee (6/10/2020)

The report documents water table levels from November 2019 to July and reports anywhere from 400,000 gallons to 5 million gallons of water extracted. Water usage is reported weekly to the federal agency, Fish & Wildlife employee David R. Stewart wrote in the June 10 report.

“The average weekly pressure readings at Mitigation Well declines significantly,” the report says. “These analyses provide additional evidence that pumping at Glenn Ranch Well is
significantly impacting wells located at San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, leading to
immediate and significant loss in pressure at Mitigation Well within a week. This correlates with
why some ponds at the Refuge are void of water, and why it is so difficult to maintain water
levels at other ponds that currently have threatened and endangered fish species.”

Border Report visited San Bernardino National Refuge in November and documented the first panels of border wall going up in this remote area about 10 miles east of the small town of Douglas. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has been actively building miles of border wall infrastructure in this area.

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