IOI (copy)

An exposed portion of the International Outfall Interceptor sewer line is seen here in Potrero Creek on Old Tucson Road in June 2018. The concrete on the left shields a covered section of the IOI.

The federal government might soon have more money to put towards a leaky cross-border sewer pipe in the local area.

The fiscal year 2021 budget proposed by President Trump includes $49 million for construction costs for the International Boundary and Water Commission.

Some of that money could pay for repairs to the Nogales International Outfall Interceptor, the roughly 8.5-mile pipeline that carries sewage from the U.S.-Mexico border to the Nogales International Wastewater Treatment Plant in Rio Rico.

“The Nogales IOI is a public health risk for the people of Southern Arizona, and it’s long past time for it to receive the attention it deserves,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Tucson) said in a news release in response to the president’s budget proposal.

A lack of funding has long hindered efforts to patch up the aging IOI, which carries more than 10 million gallons of wastewater each day from the border to the treatment plant. It wasn’t clear how much of a difference the funds in the new budget would make if it’s passed by Congress.

Misael Cabrera, director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, said in 2018 that the IBWC had $21 million to use for repairs on the IOI, but that local funding sources would need to provide another roughly $6 million for a repair project to go forward.

City and county officials said that they wouldn’t pitch in, asserting that only a small portion of the sewage flowing through the pipe originates on the U.S. side of the border. But other funding sources have emerged or been proposed since then, including a $2.6-million allocation in the last Arizona state budget that was earmarked for IOI repairs.

Last June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to redirect $4 million within the IBWC’s budget to cover the maintenance and operation of the IOI, then sent the measure on to the Senate for its approval.

Grijalva, who submitted the amendment in House, said the proposed funding in Trump’s spending plan is a win for the local community.

“After years of deteriorating infrastructure and fighting for this funding for my district, I am pleased to see the President has included this in his budget,” he said in the news release, adding later: “I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to pass this critical funding to ensure people are not exposed to water contamination.”

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