EAGLE PASS, Texas – The marine barrier, intended to enhance border security along the Texas-Mexico border, is raising concerns over the potential hazards to the river’s natural flow and aquatic ecosystems.
Dr. Adriana Martinez is a geo-fluvial morphologist, a person who studies rivers. She’s been studying the Rio Grande and the U.S.-Mexico border for years and has published two peer-reviewed studies on how the border fence impacts flooding, specifically at Eagle Pass.
In 2008-2009, approximately 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) of fencing was built along the U.S.-Mexico border. Martinez said the problems have only magnified since.
Since then, empty shipping containers, additional fencing, razor wire and buoys have been installed along the floodplain in the Rio Grande.
“The fence and the containers themselves are channeling water in different directions when flooding is occurring, and so that’s the first thing,” said Martinez.
Martinez said changing the flow of the river can have dire consequences.
“That means we’re going to be changing the depth of the water that becomes dangerous for people if they’re not expecting it. We’re changing erosion, which means we’re changing the shape of the channel itself. And then, of course, a lot of people don’t know that when they installed the buoys on the 4th of July, I was there, and they also destroyed several islands in the middle of the channel,” said Martinez.
A combination of foreign infrastructure and heavy machinery used to install it all also impacts ecosystems in and along the river.
“That affects everything that’s swimming in the river, anything from the small little bugs, macroinvertebrates that are in the channel, all the way up the food chain to the larger fish. So if you watched all the video footage of when they were installing the buoys, they were driving bulldozers in there. That’s breaking up the channel bottom, the sediment that’s been there for quite a long time. Sediment that’s supposed to stay there was churned up. That affects things like the creatures that use the bottom to lay their eggs,” Martinez said.
While the Rio Grande serves as a water source for the region, Martinez says the water quality could also be compromised.
“The whole region uses that water for drinking, right? That’s our source of water, so any time you’re moving sediment in the river, you’re affecting water quality downstream as well,” said Dr. Martinez.
Mother nature is resilient, according to Martinez, adding that proper action must be taken immediately to reverse any damage.
“We spent $1,000,000 on these buoys. We should spend at least $1,000,000 doing stream restoration on the damage that we did, replanting that vegetation, reestablishing those islands that got taken out,” she said. “So there’s a lot of things that need to be done here from the river’s perspective to undo the damage that’s already happened.”
Martinez was born and raised in Eagle Pass. She is an associate professor at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. She started studying rivers at Texas A&M and the University of Oregon, but her passion for nature and science was born at a very young age.
“Having grown up on the banks of the Rio Grande, my parents’ house is like a mile or two away as the crow flies from the river. There’s a creek running through my parents’ property. In high school, I took AP environmental science, and my teacher, Mr. Lawrence, would take us to the Rio Grande River every month, and we would do water quality sampling there,” said Dr. Martinez. “So I grew up on that river, and that’s where I really learned that you could study science and you can actually do science outside, and so I studied rivers for the last 20 years or so.”
The current state of her community is a concern professionally, but it also has a direct impact personally for Martinez.
“My heart goes out to the people that are affected by this, the people that live along the banks of the river and whose property is being affected, but also the river itself and how it’s being damaged by all this infrastructure,” said Martinez.