In the days of the wild west, there were essentially no regulations about managing navigable waterways in the United States. One problem that was obvious by the mid 1800’s was that there were no regulations about what structures could be built on or over rivers, like bridges, dams, dikes, or causeways. Another problem was the lack of regulation about the amount and kind of refuse that could be dumped into U.S. waterways.
The Rivers and Harbors Act (RHA) was passed in 1890, and it began to put into place regulations that protected our waterways. In 1899, the RHA was significantly amended. First, it became illegal to dam or erect any other structure on a navigable waterway without approval of Congress and a license or permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Second, excavation of, filling, or dumping of refuse into U.S. waterways now required the approval of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Concerns that contaminated sediments were being dumped into our waterways spurred the amendments of 1899. The Rivers and Harbors Act is considered to be the oldest federal environmental law in the U.S.
What are the consequences of waiving the RHA to expedite the building of a border wall? There are three navigable waterways in the U.S. that either cross or are on the border with Mexico—The Colorado River in Yuma, AZ, the San Pedro River near Hereford, AZ, and The Rio Grande River in Texas. Waiving the RHA would mean that wall construction near any of these rivers could produce contaminants that could be dumped into the river without acquiring a permit or license to do so. It means that a barrier could be constructed next to or right through a waterway with neither congressional approval nor the permission of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Flooding and contamination would be two likely negative outcomes of skipping the review and permitting process. Two of these rivers, the Colorado and the San Pedro, flow through the Sonoran Desert. Polluting these rivers or precipitating flooding would be catastrophic for both the human populations and wildlife which rely on them for sources of clean, fresh water. Click here for a list of all 48 federal laws waived for construction of a border wall.
Please contact your U.S. Senators and Representatives (https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members) and let them know that you oppose waiving The Rivers and Harbors Act to expedite construction of a border wall. Click here if you would like to make a donation to help us fight the border wall.