NEW: Sinema Successfully Secures Historic Nogales Wastewater Pipeline Bill in Annual Defense Bill, Soon to Be Law

Dec 7, 2023

Sinema’sNogales Wastewater Improvement Act represents an agreement decades in the making transferring ownership, operations, and maintenance of the Nogales International Outfall Receptor to the U.S.

WASHINGTON – Arizona senior Senator Kyrsten Sinema today announced that she successfully secured her Nogales Wastewater Improvement Act – historic legislation expected to soon be signed into law that delivers an agreement decades in the making to authorize the transfer of the ownership of the International Outfall Interceptor (IOI) to the U.S. – in the annual defense legislation.

The Sinema-led legislation represents a historic agreement between the City of Nogales and the federal government that elected officials from both parties and all levels of government have sought to strike for decades.

“After decades of stalled progress, I’m proud to secure this historic agreement delivering a permanent solution to the Nogales International Outfall Interceptor dilemma that provides overdue relief to Nogales families’ health and safety. This is the kind of real results we can deliver to Arizona communities when we reject partisanship and focus on solving challenges and helping Arizonans build better lives,” said Senator Sinema.

“It has been a painstaking process, but now we can start taking the steps necessary to end the failure and neglect of this pipeline that created a persistent public health threat of sewage leaks in Nogales, Arizona. Every community deserves a clean, healthy environment in which to raise their kids and live their lives free of toxic waste,” said Rep. Grijalva. “I am confident in IBWC’s leadership and firm ability to properly manage the pipeline and am proud to have worked with them, City of Nogales, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Senators Sinema and Kelly and other federal officials to secure this language in the NDAA.”

“After decades of failure by the federal government, Nogales residents finally have a solution that fixes hazards created by failing wastewater infrastructure,” said Senator Kelly. “This permanent solution will eliminate public health risks, combat drug trafficking, and improve border security.”

“Senator Sinema, your support and dedication to the City of Nogales Arizona is greatly appreciated, from the moment that you knew that the City needed this corrected. It became a priority to get this done. As Mayor of the City and on behalf of all our community and staff. We thank you for your help and accomplishment in this matter,” said Mayor Jorge Maldonado of Nogales Arizona.

“We are grateful for Senator Sinema’s leadership and advocacy on behalf of our community on this critical issue. This has been a multiyear endeavor, and I am grateful for the sustained effort from the Senator. Having the federal government assume the responsibility of its operation and maintenance of the Nogales IOI is a tremendous step forward in addressing the longstanding challenges of this pipeline,” said Supervisor Bruce Bracker of Santa Cruz County.

“Thank you, Senator Sinema, for your leadership in pushing forward a solution that transfers the ownership and responsibility for the maintenance and operations of the Nogales IOI to the federal government. For decades, we have sought relief from the ongoing threat of breach of the IOI and untreated wastewater impacting our watershed.  The Nogales Wastewater Improvement Act is essential to the welfare of our community,” stated Jaime Chamberlain, Chairman of the Greater Nogales Santa Cruz County Port Authority.

“I appreciate Senator Sinema’s leadership and advocacy in addressing longstanding issues with the International Outfall Inceptor (IOI) and to secure critical funding. Transferring ownership of the IOI and authorizing appropriations for critical construction and operation and maintenance activities will protect the health and well-being of people living in our border communities, and ensure critical protections for our precious water resources and environment,” said Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Cabinet Executive Officer Karen Peters.

The Nogales Wastewater Improvement Act was introduced by Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and cosponsored by Representative Juan Ciscomani (R-Ariz.) in the U.S. House. Senator Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) cosponsored Sinema’s bill in the Senate.

For years, the City of Nogales has continually tried to seek federal funds and additional ownership responsibility from the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) for necessary infrastructure improvements on an international sewage pipe that flows from Mexico through Nogales, Arizona to the Nogales International Wastewater Treatment Facility in Rio Rico, Arizona. 

Families in Nogales have faced challenges with untreated wastewater coming from Mexico and overflowing into streets during storm events. Sinema’s legislation will streamline the ability for the government to respond to crises on the US-side of the border and authorizes full funding for operations and maintenance into the future.

Additionally, drug smugglers in Mexico use the IOI to send narcotics and other illicit goods through the pipeline from the Mexico-side of the border to be retrieved on the U.S.-side. This pipeline is being used as a tunnel for illicit trafficking – directly below the Customs and Border Protection DeConcini Port of Entry. Sinema’s bill authorizes the construction of a drug screen at the border to catch the illicit materials cartels are sending into Arizona communities before they can be retrieved. 

More than half of all the fentanyl seized by CBP and DEA in the entire United States is seized in Arizona. Sinema’s bill better prevents these drugs from entering the country. Transferring the ownership of the pipeline, and authorizing the construction of a critical drug screen at the border, would rectify what amounts to an immediate risk to the local community, but also address nationwide security concerns as Sinema focuses on combating cartel trafficking.

The legislation also requires the federal government to initiate discussions with Mexico to ensure Mexico uses and pays for its fair share of the IOI.