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Border fence could violate 1970 treaty

HARLINGEN, Texas – A planned, much-debated fence along the U.S.-Mexico border designed to keep people from crossing the Rio Grande could exacerbate flooding and skew the national boundary, a binational commission said Wednesday.

An impermeable fence anywhere between the river and levees, which can be as far as 1 1/2 miles from the river itself, could cause flooding in addition to violating a 1970 treaty, said Sally Spener, spokeswoman for the International Boundary and Water Commission.

The treaty declared the international boundary at the midpoint of the river and prohibited construction of anything that could deflect or obstruct the water flow and harm the other side.

“If you have a structure that is going to alter the river channel, then you are in effect altering the boundary between the United States and Mexico,” she said.

Russ Knocke, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said the fence could be built in several varieties, depending on the land. Some proposed fences – such as solid steel landing mats – would be impermeable to water.

Environmental issues were part of the decision-making process, Knocke said, “but that does not change the fact that we also have a mandate to secure our borders and a legitimate need to move forward quickly with border infrastructure efforts.”

Congress last year passed a law requiring about 700 miles of fencing along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.


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