Federal, state and county officials should take notice of a warning issued last week by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality about the risk of sewage contamination in the Nogales Wash and Potrero Creek.
Pumps at the Los Alisos treatment plant in Nogales, Sonora, were struggling to process 50 percent of the wastewater being generated by that community, resulting in sewage being channeled into north-flowing drainages and across the U.S. border.
Cochise County dealt with something similar about a year ago. On Sept. 9, 2018, a major disruption in the Naco, Sonora, wastewater treatment system caused more than 4 million gallons of sewage to flow into Naco on the U.S. side of the international border.
County officials responded promptly to address the immediate crisis, but it took months of ongoing efforts to put a longer term fix in place. The federal Environmental Protection Agency stepped in to offer technical assistance, the ADEQ remained engaged in monitoring the progress of the repairs and the North American Development Bank, together with the International Boundary and Water Commission figured out how to pay for the project.
By June, a 1,200-foot long interceptor line along the border had been replaced and blockage was cleared that was causing overflows at two manholes on the Mexican side of the border.
Cochise County may be the lone example of a successful longer-term solution to the continuing problem of sewage overflows along the Mexican-American border. In addition to Nogales, spills are happening in Tijuana near San Diego, California, and in Colonias and Nuevo Laredo, both in Texas.
The lesson learned here is the importance of federal, state and local agencies working together with Mexico to ensure the immediate and long-term problems are addressed. County officials provided needed health and first responder services when the incident was reported last September. The state played a crucial role in monitoring the extent of the contamination and the progress of the repair, while federal agencies offered technical expertise and figured out how the project would be paid for.
There is a common truism that is often stated about child-rearing, that “ … it takes a village” to raise a child.
In this case, it takes all three levels of our government working together to accomplish a longer-term solution to the sewage overflow problem at our international border.