SECURED: Sinema Delivers Historic Nogales Wastewater Pipeline Bill

Dec 14, 2023

Sinema’s Nogales Wastewater Improvement Act– which addresses key national security and public health challenges – has been decades in the making and will soon be law

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate passed the annual bipartisan defense bill, which included Arizona senior Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s long-awaited Nogales Wastewater Improvement Act, with broad bipartisan support. The legislation is headed to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

The soon-to-be law delivers an agreement that has been decades in the making to authorize the transfer of the ownership of the International Outfall Interceptor (IOI) to the U.S., achieving a commonsense compromise that elected officials from both parties and all levels of government have sought to strike for decades.

“For decades, the City of Nogales has fought for stronger federal and international accountability of the sewage pipe flowing from Mexico. I’m proud to secure this agreement for Nogales, which will strengthen our national security, prevent the smuggling of dangerous drugs like fentanyl, and keep Arizonans safe and secure,” said Sinema.

“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. 

Nearly 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.