Transboundary Ecological Impacts of a Border Wall


Current Border Wall, Lukeville AZ.  Photo by Alison M. Jones

By Christina Belasco and Alison M. Jones

For all the recent talk about a U. S.-Mexico border wall, most rhetoric has ignored its significant environmental impacts.  Funding efforts for this massive, concrete wall are temporarily shelved; yet No Water No Life wants to promote discussion of the important watershed threats this wall poses, as the proposal is likely to reappear.

Those who think the almost-2,000-mile borderline from Texas to Tijuana would not have environmental impacts don’t understand that this corridor is more than an empty, arid space.  There are tenuous desert ecosystems within critical and vulnerable watersheds.  The health and very existence of local flora and fauna would be threatened.  Resultant flooding would increase.  Meanwhile, many argue that little – if anything – would be gained from constructing a border wall.

Cost of Wall – According to the Washington Post, the Wall will take over 3 years to construct at an estimated cost of $21.6 billion using taxpayer dollars.  This does not even include the $10 million/year for repairs that is currently spent .


Saguaro Cactus in the transboundary Sonora Desert, near Aho AZ.  Photo by Alison M. Jones

Wildlife – The desert is home to bison, saguaro cactus, desert tortoise, prairie dogs, blackbirds, foxes, hawks and countless other species. Added wall construction would impact more than 100 endangered species, 108 migratory bird species, 4 wildlife refuges and critical wetlands.  More than 30 environmental and cultural laws have already been waived in the name of “national security” for just the present border-wall sections.


Migratory cranes just north of the  Mexican border, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM  Photo by Alison M. Jones

Migration Corridors – One of the most devastating qualities of the border wall would be the abrupt blockage of migration corridors.  The wall wouldn’t just keep out unwanted people.  It would prevent species from moving freely to habitat crucial to their survival and to lands they have used for thousands and thousands of years.

Flash Floods – Most of the year, the desert is a very dry place to be; but when it rains, torrents come down ferociously.  Flash floods dump more than 1,000 cubic feet of water per second into the ecosystem, which carry debris downstream with it. A concrete border wall would further exacerbate severe erosion, chaos and destruction in nearby border towns above and beyond the flooding already caused by existing border-wall sections.


Rio Grande in Albuquerque, AZ. Photo by Alison M. Jones

Tohono O’odham Tribe – The Tohono O’odham are a nation of indigenous peoples on the American continent. Their tribe is in a unique transboundary situation because their territory spans both the U.S and Mexico. This tribe is vehemently opposed to a larger border wall as it would directly overrule their sovereignty and would prevent them from reaching their sacred lands.  They also know it would disrupt regional ecosystems.

AZ-CHI-114.jpgPetroglyphs of Anasazi desert culture – similar to that of today’s Tohono O’Odham culture, Chinle AZ .  Photo by Alison M. Jones


Burnett, John.  Mexico Worries That a New Border Wall Will Worsen Flooding.  NPR:  April 25, 2017.

Schuyler, Krista.  Continental Divide – Wildlife, People, and the Border Wall.  College Station TX:  Texas A & M University Press, 2012.


EarthDay’17: What if it was A Day Without Water?

Guest Opinions, Compiled by Christina Belasco

For many of us, a “Day Without Water on Earth” is unfathomable. But for many who live in drought stricken areas, a day without water is reality.  This Earth Day, NWNL is highlighting aspects of water we take for granted in our daily lives. We challenge you to take the time to learn where your water comes from; to take steps to conserve it; and to protect it as a resource for everyone. With no water, there is no life.  Even our very own bodies are about 70% water!

Here’s what NWNL friends say they’d miss on A Day Without Water.

Judith Shaw, NWNL Advisor: A day without water would bring home the fragility of our world. It would mean no gentle shower or fresh water from the tap. It would mean tragedy to communities where people travel miles to a shared source of water to bring home a gallon or two. Our rivers and streams would be dry, sacrificing all flora and fauna which thrive in that fine ecological niche. Here in Ohio, the Cuyahoga River would cease to exist, leaving Standing Rock as a memorial to what once was beautiful, generous and uplifting. Water is our life. It feeds the soul and nourishes our lives. Let us rise together to protect our resources forever.


Frontenac MN, Mississippi River Basin. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

John Ruskey, Lower Mississippi River Steward and “Rivergator:”  I would miss the sparkling exuberance of water dancing in the middle of a pond on a windy day, the ripply laughter of a gurgling creek, the refreshing showers of misty rain,  the thrilling wildness of a snowstorm, and the deep resounding soulfulness of the big muddy river in flood.

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Old Moon, Ursa Major, Voyageur Canoe, Towboats on Lower Mississippi River.  Watercolor by John Ruskey.

Jacob Mwanduka, Mau Forest Steward in Kenya’s Mara River Basin:  Can you imagine a world without water? Even for a few minutes! In Kenya and Africa as a whole, we are water-deficient localities.  This causes conflicts with no solution in sight. Water-harvesting at family levels should be encouraged and supported, especially to rural and urban under-privileged people. Over and above highlighting this plight, basic solutions must be undertaken as long-term answers are sought.


Aerial view of dry river beds in Namibia. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

Barbara Folger, NWNL Project Coordinator and Photographer:  In a Day Without Water, I would miss the amazing dances of the Sandhill Cranes that roost in the Platte River during their migrations.


Sandhill Cranes in Platte River, NE, Mississippi River Basin. Photo by Barbara Folger

Christina Belasco, NWNL Project Manager: Every day we take for granted the ease with which we access clean water through infrastructure. In a day without water, we simply wouldn’t know what to do for our basic needs, we couldn’t survive.

American folk song:
What’cha gonna do when the well runs dry?
Gonna sit on the bank, watch the crawdads die.
Honey, oh sugar baby of mine.


Big Stream, The Ozarks, Mississippi River Basin. Photo by Alison M. Jones

Alison Jones, NWNL Executive Director and Photographer: 

A Day Without Water would be one day removed
From A Day Without Earth – as we’ve known it.
There’s a reason that people have settled
Along the sea and rivers for 10,000 years.
Water sustains, cleanses, irrigates and transports us.
Water is a universal gift to each of us.

As a “country girl on a day without water, I’d miss:
Birds and butterflies at puddles and birdbaths;
The stream’s gurgle that lulls me to sleep at night;
Floating, splashing, and wetting my lips to whistle;
That cool drink of water just an arm’s reach from me now;
The feel of dew, fog, steam, rain and snow on my face.

As a photographer on a day without water, I’d miss:
Seeking the ripples, currents and eddies of
Waterfalls, ponds, puddles and springs,
Rivers, riverbanks, rivulets and rills,
Brooks, bayous, creeks, and cricks,
Lakes, lagoons, lochs and playas;
Sloshing thru wetlands in rubber boots;
Knowing a line of willows and reeds indicates a stream.

As a researcher on a day without water, I would worry:
Since my brain is75% water, could I still think?
Since my lungs are 90% water, could I still breathe?
Since water lubricates my joints, could I still move?
Since industry and agriculture need water:  No Water No Economy!
Since fish and crops need water:  No Water No Food!

On a Day without Water, I’d realize water connects us all,
No matter what our differences are.
So, on this Earth Day, we invite all to join the NWNL Team
In sharing the importance of protecting our water resources.
Talk with family, friends, and neighbors about water.
Join our pledge to help ensure Clean Water – Every Day – For All!

EarthDay’17 isn’t a Day Without Water. It’s a Day for Teamwork!


Trout Lake and Mt. Adams, WA. Columbia River Basin.  Photo by Alison M. Jones