FOSCR Statement on the Recent Rupture of the IOI

Friends of the Santa Cruz River logo

Friends of the Santa Cruz River has been concerned for some time that the binational sewage pipe, the International Outfall Interceptor (IOI), could be breached by floods in the Nogales Wash under which it lies. A pipe break would spill raw sewage into the communities of Nogales, Rio Rico, Tubac and further north along the Santa Cruz River. Our warning is encapsulated in a short video we had made and started distributing earlier this year, called “Flirting With Disaster“.

We are sad to say this eventuality has now come to pass. The waters of the Wash and the Santa Cruz River into which it flows are now heavily contaminated. An easy fix is not in sight; and even when repairs to this breach are eventually made, there is a good likelihood that a similar disaster will happen again somewhere else along the 9-mile IOI, possibly even this summer.

Although the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) has developed a plan to insert a resin sleeve into the existing IOI, and FOSCR supports this repair strategy, it will not solve the persistent problem of the location of the IOI.

This binational sewage pipe must be removed from the bed of the Wash if future public health disasters like this one are to be avoided in the future. IOI relocation will not come cheap or easy. However, barring a major overhaul of the entire Nogales Wash watershed (most of which is in Mexico), repeated erosive floods will inevitably threaten the IOI with rupture and thus threaten the health of all Santa Cruz County residents as well as the ecological health of the Santa Cruz River ecosystem. Furthermore, since most of Santa Cruz County’s residents depend for their drinking water on the aquifer that underlies the river, our drinking water supply also faces a long-term and significant threat from repeated discharges of contaminated water into the river.

This is a matter of true national security; if we don’t have clean drinking water and are not protected from public health threats, how secure are we? The IBWC must take responsibility for this border crisis and first, repair the IOI. But second and more importantly, they must get the IOI out of the Nogales Wash.

Nogales Wash

Nogales Wash and Climate Change

Article written by FOSCR Board member Ben Lomeli

Nogales Wash
Nogales Wash emerging from a tunnel in Nogales, AZ. Photo by Hans Huth.

Every storm that hits Nogales, AZ puts pressure on the deteriorating sewage pipe that carries 14 million gallons of sewage daily, mostly from Mexico, right through the small city of Nogales, AZ to the Nogales International Wastewater Treatment Plant (NIWTP) in Rio Rico, AZ.

This pipe, the International Outfall Interceptor (IOI), was constructed in 1971. Its path to the NIWTP lies mostly under the Nogales Wash. It is protected from erosive flood flows by the concrete-lined floor of the Wash and several feet of dirt.

Because of upstream urbanization and its deteriorated condition, the IOI is in danger of becoming exposed and bursting every year during heavy summer monsoon flood flows in the Nogales Wash. Additionally, the IOI continues to leak raw sewage into the groundwater aquifer system that provides drinking water for most of the community.

Friends of the Santa Cruz River commissioned a short video documenting the IOI problem to inform as many people as possible and to create a unified voice to urge federal decision makers to fund a proper repair for this failing infrastructure complex. This film can be viewed on the website.

The Nogales Wash is located in an arid-semiarid desert landscape. It lies within the Upper Santa Cruz River Basin in southeastern Arizona. There are two major precipitation periods in the typical southeastern Arizona water year. The first and most dramatic is the summer monsoon season (July–Sept), in which 50% of annual precipitation occurs. A secondary wet season during the fall and winter months is caused by Pacific frontal storm movement.

Potential climate change-related impacts are of concern for Nogales Wash (and the IOI) because all credible predictions are for warmer and drier conditions overall, but with less frequent but more intense storms.

Detention basins constructed in Mexico are too few, too small (appear to be designed for about a 25-year storm), and have quickly filled up with sediments. Many more are needed and all need to be regularly maintained. Watershed improvements are also needed to stabilize eroding soils and thus reduce excessive sediment flows. Revegetation of bare soils, water-harvesting, erosion control, retro-fitting of stormwater BMPs (Best Management Practices) and LID (Low Impact Development) approaches would all help reduce stormwater peak flows and excessive sediment transport.

Therefore, as long as the contributing watershed in Mexico continues to produce abrasive sediment-laden peak flows that far exceed the conveyance capacities of Nogales Wash, all our local stormwater infrastructure remains at risk. As long as the IOI remains underneath the deteriorated unstable and undersized Nogales Wash, the threat of IOI ruptures remains a reality that will most likely be increased by climate change.

NOTE: A version of this article was also published in “Canyon Echo,” Sierra Club Arizona”s Summer 2017 Newsletter. Click to download a .pdf of the article found on page 11.

“Flirting With Disaster”: How You Can Help!

We need to call for action!

Tell these contacts that you want to see the International Outfall Interceptor (IOI) fixed—and soon! Feel free to use the “Talking Points” below in your communications.

Senator John McCain:
https://www.mccain.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/casework-form (you can copy/paste points below onto this online form in “message” box)
Tucson office: (520) 670-6334

Senator Jeff Flake:
https://www.flake.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact-jeff
(also an online form where you can copy/paste points below)
Tucson office: (520) 575-8633

Congressman Raul Grijalva:
https://grijalva.house.gov/email-raul
Tucson office: (520) 622-6788

City of Nogales Mayor Doyle:
http://www.nogalesaz.gov/Mayor-John-Doyle/
Office: (520) 285-5602

International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC)
Public affairs office: Lori Kuczmanski (915) 832-4106

 

Talking Points

  • Binational sewage pipe (“IOI”) through Ambos Nogales needs repair SOON.
  • If the IOI breaks, the whole population of Nogales, Arizona will be exposed to raw sewage and industrial waste since it is downstream of Nogales, Sonora and the IOI runs right through the city.
  • Plans are already in place for a partial fix (“cure-in-place pipe”); it only needs funding to proceed.
  • Nogales, AZ is a small, poor city that uses only a small part of the IOI; most of the sewage in the IOI is Mexican.
  • Nogales, Sonora has serious drainage problems that need IBWC intervention to fix so erosion damage to border infrastructure like the IOI is minimized.
  • The IBWC’s job is to protect our border environment, and Congress needs to fund it so it can do its job to protect Americans from real border threats.

Download a .pdf with all the details!

For more information, be sure to watch FOSCR’s video on this issue, “Flirting With Disaster.” You can also contact Friends of the Santa Cruz River at foscriver@gmail.com with any questions or updates.

 

Please let us know if you contact any of the above, and thank you!

FOSCR’s New Video: “Flirting with Disaster”

Flirting With Disaster: Eroding Sewer Pipe Threatens Santa Cruz River

The International Outfall Interceptor (the “IOI”) sewage pipe is in danger of rupturing, spewing raw sewage and industrial waste over the poor border city of Nogales, Arizona, and into the Santa Cruz River watershed. The Federal government needs to fix the problem, caused by years of neglect, overuse, and sediment flows largely from across the border in Nogales, Mexico.

To draw attention to the major international issue, FOSCR has commissioned a video, Flirting With Disaster.”

Critical Issues:

  • Binational sewage pipe (“IOI”) through Ambos Nogales needs repair SOON!
  • If the IOI breaks, the whole population of Nogales, Arizona will be exposed to raw sewage and industrial waste since it is downstream of Nogales, Sonora and the IOI runs right through the city.
  • Plans are already in place for a partial fix (“cure-in-place pipe”). They only need the funds released to proceed.
  • Nogales, AZ is a small, poor city that uses only a small part of the IOI and most of sewage in IOI is Mexican.
  • Nogales, Sonora has serious drainage problems that need IBWC intervention to fix so erosion damage to border infrastructure like the IOI is minimized.
  • It is the International Boundary and Water Commission’s (IBWC) job to protect our border environment. Congress needs to fund it so it can do its job to protect Americans from real border threats.

How You Can Help:

1. Please share this video with your friends and on social media!
2. Contact these public officials. Feel free to use the “Critical Issues” above as your talking points.

For questions or assistance, contact Friends of the Santa Cruz River at foscriver@gmail.com.

Press Release Highlights Plight of IOI Pipeline

McCain, Flake, McSally Introduce Bill to Unburden Nogales, Arizona From IOI Pipeline Costs

Under an existing agreement between the IBWC and Nogales, the city is currently responsible for a disproportionate percentage of the operating costs of the IOI. The Nogales Wastewater Fairness Act would transfer future capital costs to the IBWC while holding the city of Nogales responsible only for its equitable proportion of operation and maintenance costs that would be fairly split based on the city’s average sewage flow.

“At its core, the 1953 financial arrangement between Nogales and IBWC is outdated and unfair,” said Senator McCain. “Nogales residents should not have to pay for runoff and sewage not under their control. Our bill finally brings fairness to the people of Nogales who are dealing with out-of-touch bureaucrats mismanaging this crumbling infrastructure.”

“The burden of wastewater infrastructure operated pursuant to a U.S.-Mexico treaty should not fall disproportionately on the City of Nogales,” said Senator Flake. “This bill resets the cost-share to reflect the proper obligations of the IBWC.”

“Nogales has shouldered an unfair burden in paying for the operation and maintenance of this pipeline for too long,” said Rep. McSally. “I am happy to join Senator McCain today in introducing the Nogales Wastewater Fairness Act. This legislation will help address a longstanding problem and I look forward to working alongside him to get this passed through Congress and onto the President’s desk.”

“We are grateful for the tremendous support from Senators McCain and Flake and Congresswoman McSally on this effort,” said Guillermo Valencia, Chairman of the Greater Nogales Santa Cruz County Port Authority. “The Greater Nogales Santa Cruz County Port Authority has for many years advocated for the urgent need to address the issue of the IOI and after trips to Washington, D.C., arranging numerous site visits and meetings with many stakeholders, we are extremely glad to see the Senator take the lead to provide a solution. This is an issue that impacts the quality of life of the residents of Nogales, Arizona. But it also has a direct impact on the lives of the residents of Nogales, Mexico, and the entire Nogales-Tucson corridor. The significance of this legislation cannot be overstated.”

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View FOSCR’s video, “Flirting with Disaster,” to learn more about the issues with the IOI Pipeline.
Contact these public officials. Feel free to use these “Critical Issues” as your talking points.

Read the press release online.