The president’s claim that the wall on the Mexican border is “virtually impenetrable” has taken a lot of damage this week. Yesterday, CNN reported that a section of the barrier in California — which Trump claimed “is not something that can be really knocked down” — was knocked down by a gust of wind as its foundation settled.
Though the blustery embarrassment was localized and easily fixable, on Thursday, the Washington Post revealed a more structurally important concern:
President Trump’s border wall likely will require the installation of hundreds of storm gates to prevent flash floods from undermining or knocking it over, gates that must be left open for months every summer during “monsoon season” in the desert, according to U.S. border officials, agents and engineers familiar with the plans.
At locations along the U.S. southern border where such gates already are in operation, Border Patrol agents must manually raise them every year before the arrival of the summer thunderstorms that convert riverbeds into raging torrents that carry massive amounts of water and debris, including sediment, rocks, tree limbs and vegetation. Trump’s wall, which features 30-foot metal bollards spaced four inches apart, effectively acts as a sewer grate that traps the debris; when clogged, the barriers cannot withstand the power of the runoff.
Already, these unmanned gates have been destinations for coyotes, smugglers, and undocumented migrants: Due to their remote location, Border Patrol agents have to keep the gates open for months, allowing the portal’s location to spread among those traveling north. “They know as soon as the Border Patrol opens them,” John Ladd, an Arizona rancher whose property abuts the border, told the Post, referring to Mexican traffickers. Once at the compromised boundary, migrants can use the stream channels on the U.S. side to travel further into the states, while avoiding detection.
Overlooking the hydrology of the desert Southwest is one of several examples of how the Trump administration’s neglect of the specific demands of the region has undermined the project. The White House has failed to account for just how long it takes to acquire private property along the border — a key reason for the massive delay in wall-building thus far. (Despite $18.4 billion allocated to the project, just 100 miles of barrier have been built, the majority of which serves as a replacement of existing structures.) Federal and state parks may also have to be divvied up — including major sections of the wall carving up the biological hotspot of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which has been 40 years in the making.
As the White House rushes the long-delayed project to have something to show to the base before the November election, other natural barriers are going to get in the way of the wall. As the Post notes, as the Trump administration pushes for construction beyond established areas, it will be forced to build on mountainous and ever-more-remote terrain, requiring larger and more frequent storm gates to accommodate waterflow.