Nogales sewage

Workers repair damage to a sewer line, which carries 10 million gallons of sewage each day from Sonora, in front of a house in Nogales, Ariz. Marijuana bundles blocked the pipe.

Photos by A.E. Araiza / Arizona Daily Star/

Arizona’s congressional delegation is pushing to help the city of Nogales avoid a $40 million repair bill for a cross-border sewage pipeline.

The Nogales Wastewater Fairness Act would shift the financial burden of repairing the pipeline, which carries millions of gallons of sewage from Mexico to Nogales every day, to the International Boundary and Water Commission, a federal agency tasked with cross-border water issues.

The bill also would ensure the city of Nogales does not pay a “disproportionate percentage” of the costs to maintain the pipeline, according to a news release from Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona.

Although most of the pipeline is in Arizona, more than 80 percent of the waste that flows through it comes from Mexico, said Nogales City Manager Carlos Rivera.

“It is not fair for a city with a population of 20,000 to pay for the waste of a city with a population of 300,000,” Rivera said, referring to the populations of Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, respectively.

The pipeline is over 40 years old and eroding due to excessive use, according to the IBWC. The average lifespan for this type of pipeline is 50 years. The roughly 3-foot-diameter pipe runs about 9 miles from Nogales to a treatment plant in Rio Rico.

The $40 million repair would be difficult, if not impossible, for the city to afford, Rivera said.

McCain and fellow Republican Sen. Jeff Flake introduced the bill in the Senate earlier this month, while Reps. Martha McSally, a Republican, and Democrat Raúl Grijalva introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives.

“Nogales residents should not have to pay for runoff and sewage not under their control,” McCain said in a statement. “Our bill finally brings fairness to the people of Nogales.”

Members of Arizona’s congressional delegation have proposed amendments to funding bills and other measures every year since at least 2004 to address the cost of repairing the pipeline. Congressional records indicate the new bill is the first time those efforts have taken the form of standalone bills.

All four of the sponsors of the new bills declined to respond to questions from the Star.

The IBWC released a statement saying agency officials are “reviewing the proposal in detail and look forward to working with Sen. McCain and Rep. McSally.”

The need to fix the International Outfall Interceptor, as the pipeline is known, is “urgent,” said Guillermo Valencia, chairman of the Greater Nogales Santa Cruz County Port Authority.

“The significance of this legislation cannot be overstated,” Valencia said.

Contact Nate Airulla at starapprentice@tucson.com