Wastewater containing raw sewage has been intermittently flowing into the Nogales Wash from Mexico since mid-January, spurring concerns about health and the water supply for communities on both sides of the border.
Four of the five pumps at the Los Alisos Wastewater Treatment Plant in Nogales, Sonora have been malfunctioning since mid-January, but a temporary fix is in the works.
Jesús Pujol Irastorza, mayor of Nogales, Sonora, said replacement pumps would cost more than $100,000 each. But with the help of the International Boundary and Water Commission, the city purchased a motor to fix one of the four broken pumps. The pump is expected to be fixed within five weeks.
Without working pumps, wastewater can’t be pumped over the hills of Nogales effectively, so in peak usage times, like in the morning or when people get home from work, wastewater flows into the Nogales Wash at about 180 gallons per minute, according to Lori Kuczmanski, spokeswoman for the IBWC, which “applies the boundary and water treaties of the United States and Mexico and settles differences that may arise in their application,” according to its website.
The Nogales Wash runs north from Mexico into Nogales, Ariz., and eventually empties into the Santa Cruz River, which also flows north at this point. Because the river provides drinking water to communities in Santa Cruz County in southern Arizona, the risk of contamination is a big concern for many residents.
Friends of the Santa Cruz River, a nonprofit volunteer group devoted to protecting the watershed, regularly hosts cleanups and spreads awareness of the situation.
“If it’s mixed with raw sewage, A, this goes through the city of Nogales, Ariz., exposing the populace to raw sewage, and B, it flows eventually into the Santa Cruz River as it goes north and exposes the rest of the county to some raw sewage,” said Sherry Sass, the group’s president.
The IBWC has been providing engineering help and other technical assistance to Nogales, Sonora since the overflow was discovered.
Mayor Pujol Irastorza said the Los Alisos Wastewater Treatment Plant in his city was built to take pressure off the Nogales International Wastewater Treatment Plant in Rio Rico.
“It just takes time. It takes money,” said Jayne Harkins, the U.S. commissioner of the IBWC. “We have to figure it out and we have to do it with Mexico.”
The city would not say if the motor would fix the issue completely or serve as a permanent solution.