Texas DPS Boats Patrol Miles of Rio Grande | NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
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Texas DPS Boats Patrol Miles of Rio Grande

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    The Texas Department of Public Safety uses 13 boats to cruise the waters of the Rio Grande. The task is daunting – some stretches actually flow through large lakes, like Lake Amistad. (Published Monday, May 1, 2017)

    The Borderland Project is focusing in on the vast expanse that is the Rio Grande.

    The Texas Department of Public Safety uses 13 boats and 76 personnel members to cruise the waters of the Rio Grande.

    The task is daunting. The river is the 20th longest in the world, is only 60 feet at its deepest point and has some stretches with little water. Other parts of the Rio Grande flow through large lakes, including Lake Amistad northwest of Del Rio.

    Locals in the Val Verde County community are grappling with the notion of a border wall being built in or near their beloved lake.

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    Del Rio is located 152 miles west of San Antonio. It is home to Laughlin Air Force Base and Lake Amistad, which translates to "friendship" in Spanish.

    If you're heading to the reservoir, chances are you'll find a friend in Jim Criswell, owner of Amistad Marine on U.S. Highway 90 in Del Rio.

    "It's that time of the year again," he said, pacing back and forth in his store's shop area.

    On this day, Criswell was busy fixing fishing boats ahead of a weekend fishing tournament.

    While he's quick to fix a troubled boat engine, Criswell can't quite figure out where a border wall would go.

    "I don't know. I'm just not in the know," he said

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    The lake is in a unique position. It belongs to both Texas and Mexico.

    "Beautiful day," said Raul Cordero, of Farwest Guide Service.

    Cordero has been fishing Amistad for more than three decades.

    "This lake is known for its clear water, as you can see we've got both today," he said on a breezy, sunny day in mid-April.

    Cordero drove his fishing boat out to Amistad Dam, where two eagle statues – one American and one Mexican – are perched side-by-side. The dam serves as an international barrier.

    There are also 28 buoys up the river that divide the two countries.

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    "You cross to the other side, left side of that buoy marker, that's Mexico right there," Cordero said pointing to a buoy.

    Cordero says he takes clients across the border for dinner in the Mexican state of Coahuila.

    "The past two-and-a-half, three years have been really, really quiet," he said.

    Cordero says Falcon Lake, located five hours south of Del Rio, experienced the occasional spillover of violence from the Mexican side years ago and it took a toll on Amistad.

    People stopped going to Amistad, fearing for their safety.

    "They were scared," said Cordero. "They think when they hear of a border lake, that every border lake or every border town has a problem and it's not the case."

    Cordero gives credit to Mexican police and military forces in neighboring Acuna, Coahuila, for stepping up their presence in recent years, especially after a Mexican lawmaker's son was murdered.

    Texas game wardens like Capt. Marco Alvizo patrol the Texas side of the lake often.

    "The biggest problem is just illegal fishing activity," said Alvizo. "And in the grand scheme of things, that's a pretty good problem to have on a lake."

    Alvizo says a good relationship with Mexico is "crucial."

    "The intel that they have, and the Border Patrol and all the federal agencies we have on this side," he said.

    All agencies, he says, are helping combat crime. It's an especially important relationship because boundaries on Amistad are often impossible to see.

    "Buoy number 11, it's actually to where the boundary is probably less than 50 yards from Texas," Alvizo said.

    The shore along the lake is rocky, desert terrain, prompting many to question whether a border wall through or even near the lake is feasible.

    Texas U.S. Rep. Will Hurd is a Republican representing more than 800 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. Hurd has long opposed a border wall and says Lake Amistad is one area where a wall will not work.

    Hurd told NBC 5 his position on the wall has not changed.

    "There is no question that we must secure our border," he said in a statement to constituents. "But building a wall from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to go about doing so. A one-size-fits all solution won't address all of the border's complexities."

    Hurd favors investing in technology and personnel.

    "It actually would not make sense in this whole county, or even west of here, because there's too many canyons, too much rough country, too many areas where there's big flooding," Alvizo said.

    Instead, Alvizo suggests adding extra border security personnel or better technology.

    Cordero favors a wall to replace existing fence on land farther inside of Del Rio.

    "Me personally, I think it would really help us," he said.

    Criswell feels a wall is economically impossible.

    "It's a little far-fetched," he said.

    Criswell says the proposal won't stop undocumented migrants from coming. He jokingly said he might have to update the selection of items he sells in his store.

    "Maybe get in the ladder business, I don't know," he said with a chuckle.

    "There's times you're out here and you think you're by yourself," said Cordero, casting a reel in one of his favorite spots near Amistad Dam.

    At a time when uncertainty runs as deep as the lake, many wonder if the view from atop the lake in Del Rio will change in the near future. But at least for now, two countries will continue to be linked by friendship.

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