FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 20, 2016
(AUSTIN) — Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, recently (June 11) received the Special Community Recognition Award from the Rio Grande International Study Center (RGISC), a non-profit organization whose mission is to protect the Rio Grande through awareness, advocacy, research, education, stewardship and bi-national collaboration.
The senator received the award for her efforts to prevent the aerial spraying of herbicides along Laredo's riverbanks.
"The RGISC chose Senator Zaffirini for this award because of her commitment and tenacity in fighting to protect and defend our only source of drinking water, the Rio Grande," said Tricia Cortez, the organization's executive director.
The issue first caused controversy in Laredo in 2009 when the U.S. Border Patrol proposed spraying chemicals along the riverbanks to eradicate the invasive plant called Carrizo cane. That plan was halted after RGISC, Rio Grande Legal Aid and local neighbors and activists pursued legal action, reaching a settlement with the Border Patrol that prevented aerial spraying. The issue again caused an outcry this year as the State of Texas began to plan its Carrizo cane eradication program established by legislation passed in 2015.
"Controlling Carrizo cane along the Rio Grande is an important priority, especially because the proliferation of this invasive species along our river damages the environment, uses valuable water resources and raises border security concerns," said Senator Zaffirini, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs and a member of the Natural Resources and Economic Development committee. "Our community, however, continues to believe there are better solutions than the aerial spraying of toxic chemicals along our riverbanks."
"As a result of our action, the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board has assured me they will not pursue the aerial spraying of herbicides in Webb County at this time," she continued. "We hope they will consider seriously alternative control methods, including biological, cultural and mechanical ones."
The statewide cane eradication program has not been funded fully, but $190,000 in federal justice assistance grants will be used to help eradicate approximately 700 acres of cane, and the same amount will be available next year.
"We thank Senator Zaffirini for making this issue a priority, and we look forward to working closely with her and the relevant agencies," Cortez said.
The recognitions took place at RGISC's 22nd annual meeting, which has grown from a Board of Directors meeting to a community open house that draws more than 100 attendees. Volunteers Jim Fulgham, Lily Nguyen, Vanessa Ochoa and Maria Espinosa and educators Erika Buentello and Sandra Gonzalez also were recognized.
SENATOR JUDITH ZAFFIRINI receives a special community recognition from the Rio Grande International Study Center (RGISC) on Sat., June 11. Shown (front row, L-R) are RGISC Board Member Selinda Martinez and honorees Erika Buentello, Senator Judith Zaffirini, Sandra Gonzalez, Jim Fulgham, Lily Nguyen and Maria Eugenia Espinosa; and (back row, L-R) RGISC Executive Director Tricia Cortez and her daughter, Marley, and Board Members Danny Gunn Sr., Adolfo "Popo" Gonzalez, Victor Oliveros, Dr. Tom Vaughan and Juan Livas.