The U.S. House of Representatives last week approved an amendment to direct $4 million within the International Boundary and Water Commission to “clarify” the responsibility for the maintenance and operation of the pipeline that carries about 14 million gallons of sewage per day across the local border from Mexico.

This comes on the heels of a settlement in a drawn-out lawsuit between the IBWC and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality in which the IBWC agreed to allot $38.8 million in upgrades and protective measures for the aging sewer line. It was lauded by Gov. Doug Ducey as a “major win … helping resolve a decades-old issue that threatened the health and safety of residents and the environment in Nogales and Santa Cruz County.”

The pipe extends to the Nogales International Wastewater Treatment Plant in Rio Rico, which is co-owned and operated by the City of Nogales and the IBWC.

The $4 million legislation was drafted by U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, who successfully worked to include it in the appropriations bill that passed the House last Friday. Now we hope our Sens. Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema, who are well acquainted with the dangers posed by the decrepit IOI, will help get the measure passed and move closer to finally putting the matter of ownership to rest.

In terms of federal spending, this proposal is chump change. But to us mortals that’s still a hefty chunk of taxpayer coin to clarify what should already be clear.

The IBWC’s stated mission is “to provide binational solutions to issues … regarding boundary demarcation, national ownership of waters, sanitation, water quality and flood control in the border region.” Yet in the case of the IOI, instead of solutions, the IBWC has effectively blocked the path forward for many years.

As recently as April 2017, U.S. Magistrate Judge D. Thomas Ferraro issued a report and recommendation that the IBWC is at least a partial owner or operator of the sewer line, known as the International Outflow Interceptor. In its hallmark arrogance, the IBWC essentially disregarded the ruling.

Then-City Attorney Jose Luis Machado told the NI that “the only opinion that matters here is the judge’s opinion and he’s ruled in favor of the City of Nogales. Until that’s appealed and until that’s overturned, that is the law of this case – IBWC has an ownership interest in the IOI.”

In a press release last Friday, Grijalva said: “It’s ridiculous that the people of Nogales and Santa Cruz County live under the constant threat of a dire public health emergency if the IOI bursts. Clarifying the responsibility of the IOI to the IBWC will mean we can begin necessary repairs to the aging infrastructure with more certainty as we protect the public health of those who live along the border.”

We agree.

(Coppola is publisher of the Nogales International. Contact him at publisher@nogalesinternational.com.)

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