Most of the deaths in border crossings come from dehydration, so in 2001 we established and continue to maintain a network of water stations in the region. Thirty-five stations are now serviced by thousands of volunteers. Since 2001 we have dispensed more than 100,000 gallons of water and we’re still counting. Permits and agreements to place and maintain the water stations have been reached with a variety of government agencies including the U.S. National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Pima County, Ariz., the City of Tucson, Ariz., Grupo Beta in Sonora, Mexico, and private property owners along the border. Most Humane Borders water stations consist of a single 65-gallon barrel of water, while others may have up to half a dozen barrels. All the barrels are constructed of industrial strength plastic, fitted with spigots, and placed on steel stands above the desert floor. All the water stations are marked by a blue flag atop a flagpole 30 feet high. The barrels all have Humane Borders bumper stickers on them and are painted with the word “Agua” (Spanish for water) on the side. Local soft drink companies who support our cause have donated some of the 65-gallon drums.
By collaborating with the the Pima County Medical Examiner, Humane Borders develops detailed maps of the region that mark the GPS location of every migrant discovered to have died. This information allows us to approach government and private land managers, show them where deaths occur most frequently, and offer a strategy for water stations aimed at curbing the fatalities. On some federal lands, our permits allow us to place the water stations a day’s walk apart. On some private ranches we place the barrels at cattle watering stations so that migrants don’t damage equipment and drink foul water. We know that more deaths occur in the areas we are not permitted to establish the water stations. It is not our business to pretend we can control the flow of migrants that come north through our deserts where daytime summer temperatures can exceed 110 degrees. The facts are that due to circumstances way beyond our control they do come. Despite whatever opposing political views people may have on this issue we hope that the one thing we can all agree on is that this northward migration should not cost people their lives. The water stations are maintained by hundreds of volunteers. Each station is checked regularly to ensure the safety of the water, report vandalism, and pick up the inevitable collection of trash and discarded personal items left behind. All the water barrels are purified with chlorine, preventing organic growth and keeping the life-saving water safe for drinking.