You may have heard that President Trump redirected $30 million meant for Arizona’s Fort Huachuca towards his border wall, but that’s not the only extreme measure he’s taken to build his wall at Arizona’s expense.
Under pressure from Trump, the Department of Homeland Security has taken advantage of a 2005 federal law to waive federal requirements and environmental protections — including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act — in order to push ahead with constructing a portion of Trump’s wall in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
Organ Pipe is a stunning, heat-soaked monument along the U.S.-Mexico border where temperatures routinely surpass 120 degrees. The area has a long and storied history, but the next stage of that history is taking on a distinctly different flavor: Construction crews are currently converting existing five-foot-high vehicle barriers in Organ Pipe into 30-foot-tall steel walls, topped with floodlights, as part of Trump’s wall project.
Organ Pipe is just a small part of the 100,000 square mile Sonoran Desert, but it remains a unique landmark, and one that is now under siege, at least according to Laiken Jordahl, a former employee of the U.S. National Park Service at Organ Pipe and now the borderlands campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s basically just an all-out attack,” Jordahl told The Intercept. “It’s unbelievable. This would never be conceivable if normal environmental laws were in place.”
Making matters worse is that the water needed to mix the concrete to support those walls in Organ Pipe is being drained out of a rare desert aquifer. The Arizona Republic reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection — which is under the DHS umbrella — estimates that it will need 84,000 gallons of water per day to complete the Organ Pipe project. The project, which is supposed to include 43 miles of steel fencing, will require roughly 1.85 million gallons of water per mile, which equals nearly 80 million gallons of groundwater, according to the Arizona Republic.
“We’re literally mining it out of the earth here,” Jordahl told The Intercept. “It will take generations to regenerate, if it does at all.”
Sucking out the groundwater from the aquifer could devastate Quitobaquito Springs, an oasis that is the only source of natural, permanent freshwater for hundreds of species in the area, including some endangered ones. If the springs are drained of their water, that makes the already deadly, drought-struck Sonoran desert even more dangerous.
Rick Martynec, an archaeologist conducting volunteer surveys of sites within the nearby Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, told the Washington Post that researchers have not had time to properly evaluate the area targeted for construction.
“Quitobaquito, as we know it, may be destroyed before anyone has had a chance to evaluate the consequences of the current actions,” Martynec said. “What’s the rush?”
This could prove devastating to the desert-dwelling communities who have lived in the area for at least 16,000 years, particularly around Quitobaquito.
Draining water out of the aquifer is also likely to exacerbate the rising temperatures and existing water shortages being experienced in the southwest United States, which will worsen the severe droughts and wildfires that are likely to occur there in the future, according to the latest National Climate Assessment from November 2018.
Beyond the consequences for Organ Pipe’s water supply, Trump’s wall could also damage or destroy up to 22 archaeological sites within the monument, according to an internal National Park Service report obtained by The Washington Post.
The Post also reported that the project could “pose irreparable harm to unexcavated remnants of ancient Sonoran Desert peoples.”
Environmental groups have tried to stop construction, arguing that constructing the wall could disrupt wildlife migration and threaten endangered species, but have had no luck.
Despite all of these risks, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has actually sought to expedite construction to meet Trump’s campaign promise of completing 500 miles of barrier by the 2020 election.
The law DHS is taking advantage of — the REAL ID Act — was enacted after 9/11 as a means of protecting the nation against terrorism, but the waivers allowed by the law were rarely used until Trump took office.
That has changed, though, and Trump has not been shy about using the waivers to get his wall built, regardless of the cost to Arizona. His administration has plowed through private property, federally protected land, and sacred Native American sites all in the name of his wall.
“Take the land,” Trump has told advisers. “Get it done.”
They’re well on their way. CBP has said that the stretch of wall cutting through Organ Pipe is set to be completed in January 2020.