Posted: Apr 30, 2012 10:59 PM
Updated: May 1, 2012 6:35 AM
MERCEDES - CHANNEL 5 NEWS is exposing new threats to the Rio Grande Valley's water supply. We're asking questions about the safety and security along the Rio Grande.
The river is the Valley's primary source of water. Cities and water corporations count on powerful pumps to push thousands of gallons of water north. Jo Jo White invited CHANNEL 5 NEWS inside his pumping station. The cinder block building sits on the banks of the river south of Mercedes.
"This area and around the pumping plant, this has gotten to be one of their key staging areas," says White. His workers at Irrigation District #9 feel threatened.
"Obviously if we have an employee here who can alert the Border Patrol, they don't like that, and they'll do anything they can to intimidate them and hopefully run them off," says White.
His workers interrupted a drug smuggling attempt just last week. The smugglers had parked an SUV on the Mexican side and put a raft in the river. After the failed smuggling attempt, someone broke into a storage building near the pump house. White believes it was retaliation for his employees disrupting their business.
He says a vital worker is quitting, because of the fear something will happen. That leaves White concerned. "This particular pumping plant is a key infrastructure here for the Mid-Valley. Not only does it serve 60,000 acres of prime farmland and the production infrastructure it produces, but it also delivers the raw water for almost 200,000 people.
Cities like Weslaco, Mercedes, Edcouch, and Elsa rely on Irrigation District #9 for their water."
If the pump house goes down, the city of Weslaco says they could last a few weeks using water from a reservoir and an additional water well. The City Utilities Director David Salinas sayys he worries about the primary supply at the river.
"I'd be concerned, especially with everything going on. I'd be concerned security-wise. You want to make sure your staff is protected," says Salinas.
White says he wants Border Patrol to recognize the risk at the pump house.
"You have certain key infrastructures right on this river that are isolated, and these particular structures need to be protected, much less the personnel that are running them," says White.
Border Patrol told White they don't have enough staff to stay at his pump station 24 hours a day. His crews are now strengthening their own security and watching the pump house more closely than ever.
"It's still the U.S. It's a shame that it's gotten to this point. And for the life of me, I wish the powers-that-be in Washington that don't feel there's a problem could have been here and seen what happened on U.S. soil," says White.
U.S. Border Patrol Spokesperson Rosalinda Huey responded to the irrigation district's concerns through a statement. She wrote:
United States Border Patrol Agents protect the border between the ports of entry 24 hours a day, seven days a week. However we do not provide exclusive security to any entity, public or private. The agency takes a threat-based approach to carry out its border security mission. In an effort to secure the border, agents plan and execute against the risks that exist within our area of responsibility.
Additionally, by integrating efforts with local, state and other federal agencies, and by working closely with the irrigation district or anyone else within our communities, we can further mitigate any concerns or safety issues.