Water, Texas: Border wall concerns in Lower Rio Grande Valley diminished by virus and growth

Before it turns right and heads straight north to the Dakotas, US 281 spends its first 46 miles close to the Rio Grande in South Texas. The two-lane highway slips out of downtown Brownsville and bends west through a Lower Rio Grande Valley landscape renowned in Texas for binding water, agriculture, and ecology in a tumult of ferocious urban growth, nationally significant environmental restoration, and political turmoil…

On the highway’s south side, distant stands of spiny hackberry and western soapberry climb out of the shrubs and grass near the river. The thick vegetation is preserved along the U.S. side of the river in a necklace of riparian parcels protected in two national wildlife refuges, five state parks, and several non-profit group conservation areas that extend more than 200 miles upstream from the Gulf of Mexico. Watered by the river, these wildlands of native trees and shrubs lure hundreds of species of song and migrating birds and hide rare four-legged creatures, including the endangered ocelot. The wildlands also attract two-legged creatures. And in the years before the pandemic, some 200,000 visitors per year sustained a recreational tourism economy valued at between $600 million and $700 million annually.

Read the fourth installment of the five-part “Water, Texas” series from Keith Schneider with Circle of Blue here.