News Feature | October 25, 2017

Sewage Drama Between Mexico, U.S. May Worsen

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,


Sewage leaks along the border between Mexico and the U.S. may get worse, and officials are debating how to address the issue.

Officials in Arizona and Mexico’s Sonora often debate water issues. They share a water source: the Santa Cruz River. And residents in the Sonora-Arizona border region are used to the Santa Cruz River flooding.

But experts say those floods are likely to include an increasing amount of sewage in the coming years.

“With those storms arriving earlier and hitting harder, putting extra stress on old pipes that already carry millions of gallons of sewage from south to north, researchers and floodplain specialists say the potential risks for public and environmental health are severe,” the Arizona Daily Star reported.

Infrastructure meant to minimize sewage issues along the border is under strain.

“In July, the International Outfall Interceptor (IOI), a 46-year old concrete pipe that can carry up to 14 million gallons of raw sewage and runoff a day from Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona, to a treatment plant in Rio Rico, ruptured under the strain of heavy floods from Mexico, spilling raw sewage into a tributary of the Santa Cruz River and causing a significant spike in E. coli bacteria levels near the breach, government testing showed,” the report said.

Increasing risks have officials debating how to address the issue.

“Although pressure from alarmed residents is driving the initial steps for repairs, bureaucratic debates over the responsibility of the binational waste systems are hampering a permanent solution to both problems,” the report said, citing officials and residents.

U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, R-AZ, framed the issue like this, per the report: “Now that we have a hazardous, nonstop sewage flood coming into the United States, there’s obviously intermediate concerns about the risks and the mitigation related to health.”

Temo Galindo, the mayor of Nogales, Sonora, noted that the city is working to upgrade its infrastructure.

A massive sewage spill in Mexico polluted the shores of Southern California in February. Officials on both sides of the border investigated the issue, Reuters reported.

A report by the International Boundary and Water Commission found that “a series of breakdowns that began on New Year's Day in Tijuana were responsible” for the spill, according to Fox 5 San Diego.

Image credit: "Mexico Flag," Rob Young, 2012, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: