The U.S. House of Representatives this week passed an amendment to redirect $4 million within the budget of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) to cover the maintenance and operation of the aging cross-border sewer line that runs through Nogales and into Rio Rico.
U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Tucson who represents Santa Cruz County in Congress, said he submitted the amendment to a government funding bill with the aim of clarifying the IBWC’s responsibility for the upkeep of the line known as the International Outfall Interceptor. Having passed the House on Tuesday, it now awaits approval from the Senate.
“Due to the aging infrastructure and neglected repairs of the IOI, the people of Southern Arizona live under the constant threat of water contamination,” Grijalva said in a news release. “By clarifying responsibility with this amendment, the IBWC should finally be able to move forward with the necessary repairs, fix this problem once and for all, and ensure that we have a real solution to protect the public health of the people along the U.S.-Mexico border.”
The IBWC already has $21 million to fix the leak-prone, 8.5-mile line that transports millions of gallons of wastewater each day from Ambos Nogales to a treatment plant in Rio Rico, and has been seeking an approximately $6 million match from other partners to complete a cured-in-place rehab project. The new Arizona state budget allocated $2.6 million for IOI repairs, and the IBWC funding amendment would add another $4 million to that pot.
“Now the Senate must act to ensure this funding dedicated to the purpose of clarifying responsibility for the IOI is included in any funding bill they pass,” Grijalva said.
Maintenance of the pipeline is currently the shared responsibility of the IBWC and City of Nogales as the result of an agreement dating to the 1950s. A settlement in a 2004 federal lawsuit requires Nogales to pay 23 percent of the treatment plant’s more-than $5 million annual operating costs, even though the city contributes only about 8 percent of the wastewater.
Earlier this month, members of Arizona’s congressional delegation, including Grijalva in the House and Sens. Martha McSally (R) and Kyrsten Sinema (D) in the Senate, introduced the Nogales Wastewater Fairness Act to require that the City of Nogales only be charged operation and maintenance costs based on the average daily wastewater that originates from the city. It would also formally relieve Nogales of the obligation to contribute to the costs of repairing or upgrading the pipeline or treatment plant.
The fairness act, which died in Congress when first introduced in 2017, is currently pending in both houses.