Toxic waste from Mexico flooding into Arizona sparks a new border war

Posted: Updated:
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

NOGALES, Ariz.--- Toxic water flowing from Mexico into the United States is the cause of a different kind of border war.

By the laws of nature, and international treaty, water flows north from Nogales, Sonora, into Nogales, Arizona. 

Rain water carries toxins from Mexican sewage and also industrial waste. Roughly 80 factories south of the border produce clothing, metals, plastics, and more. Waste from those plants seeps into the environment, and rains bring it to Arizona.

A sewer system and wash are designed to bring the wastewater to a treatment facility near Nogales.  The treated water is released into the Santa Cruz River, which can flow as far north as Pinal County. 

The system is old, and falling apart. The concrete wash walls are crumbling, as are the underground pipes. Strong storms overwhelm the system, and untreated pollutants from Mexico flood into Arizona.

"It'll affect every well from here to Casa Grande," warns Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino. He's been sounding the alarm about the issue for years.

Garino has seen his streets flood many times, and fears a complete collapse of the wastewater treatment system.

"It's a catastrophe in the making," he told 3TV.

Arizona's top environmental official, Henry Darwin of the Department of Environmental Quality, calls the situation a "crisis."

"If both [the wash and pipes] break, then yes, there's industrial and domestic waste water in the water coming in from Mexico," Darwin said.

Arizona is suing the federal government for failing to stop illegal discharges of cyanide and other contaminants, like ammonia nitrogen, copper, and E. coli.

The lawsuit demands the US State Department rebuild the Mexico-to-Arizona sewer system to control the pollution.

"It's incredibly frustrating for me. I'm having to spend state resources to sue the federal government to get them to do what they're required to do," Darwin said.