Rio Grande

President Trump insists that despite opposition from Democrats, he’s still getting his wall built, bragging about a new section on the Rio Grande.

The only problem is that the Rio Grande “wall” is actually just an addition to the levee wall system already in place.

During a Q&A session with reporters at the White House on Tuesday, Trump said evidence that his wall is being built can be seen in a “big, big section on the Rio Grande.”

“You probably saw it. Some of you were there when they started. You went there, you didn’t believe it,” Trump said, after promising that the wall would stop drugs and drug dealers from entering the country. “We’re getting a beautiful-looking structure that’s also less expensive to build, and works much better.”

However, the construction happening at the Rio Grande isn’t a part of any deal that Trump made with Congress. Rather, it’s an infrastructure project that was announced with little fanfare in November of 2018, after a deal was made with a contractor in late October. According to a press release issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the six-mile structure is a “levee wall” added “to the height of the existing levee.” 

“The RGV-03 project includes the construction and installation of tactical infrastructure including a reinforced concrete levee wall to the height of the existing levee, 18 feet tall steel bollards installed on top of the concrete wall, and vegetation removal along a 150 foot enforcement zone throughout the approximately six miles of levee wall system,” the press release stated. “The enforcement zone will also include detection technology, lighting, video surveillance, and an all-weather patrol road parallel to the levee wall.”

The construction of a levee wall along a large river like the Rio Grande is fairly standard procedure, as a levee wall acts as a barrier between a river and property in a floodplain. ThoughtCo defines a levee wall as “a raised berm that runs along a river or canal.” The structure must be built high enough to stop rising waters, and be strong enough to not be breached by floodwaters.

Previous Rio Grande flooding is likely what necessitated the construction of the new additions to the current levee wall, rather than drug trafficking, as President Trump implied. In August of 2018, Quartz reported that the border fencing straddling the U.S./Mexico border was toppled due to floodwaters — that ironically occurred from the disruption to local geography as a result of border fence construction.

On July 27, 2014, monsoon rains hit the sister cities of Nogales, Arizona, in the US, and Nogales, Sonora, in Mexico. As the rain poured down, floodwaters rushed west of the Mariposa Port of Entry, clogging a 60-foot section of the border fence with debris. The bollard-style fence, with posts buried at least 7 feet underground, had been designed to let water pass through, but the intensity of the flooding and the size of the debris, which included tree trunks, toppled it.

For longtime Nogales residents on both sides of the border, the incident felt like déjà vu. Six years earlier, monsoon rains had flooded the downtown Nogales, Sonora, a city of about 210,000, trapping merchants in their stores, causing $8 million worth of damage, and drowning two people. That time, too, the culprit was border infrastructure.

In a nutshell, the insistence of past administrations to build more and more border fence in the Rio Grande valley has now created geographical conditions that necessitate the construction of bigger, stronger levee walls. The drug trafficking Trump is concerned about typically happens at legal ports of entry, rather than open border territory. The new levee wall will likely have little effect on illegal drugs being shipped across the U.S./Mexico border.


Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.

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