A week after declaring a state of emergency, Gov. Doug Ducey activated the state’s National Guard to help local and federal authorities in Santa Cruz County working to repair a rupture to a binational sewage line just north of Nogales.

Heavy monsoon rains last week caused the leak at the International Outfall Interceptor, spilling thousands of gallons of wastewater into a wash that feeds into the Santa Cruz River.

The pipeline carries sewage from Nogales, Sonora, and Nogales, Arizona, to a treatment plant nine miles north of the border in Rio Rico.

Testing found high levels of E. coli in water sources near the wash, prompting a warning from health officials and Ducey’s emergency declaration on July 27.

The National Guard’s deployment is an amendment to the original declaration, which freed up $200,000 in state funds to deal with the rupture.

The U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission, which operates the pipeline and had previously denied the existence of a leak, also set aside $300,000 for emergency work on the interceptor.

On Wednesday, construction crews under contract with the commission completed the installation of a temporary pipeline that diverts the flow of wastewater from the ruptured area.

It stopped the discharge of wastewater into the Nogales Wash, and will allow crews to begin repairs on the pipeline. But that could take a bit longer, according to local officials.

“They’re still working on plan to fix the actual IOI,” said Jeff Terrell, health services director for Santa Cruz County. 

“They haven’t concluded how they’re going to do it because of the water levels, with the storms that have happened every day,” he added.

It’s unclear how much the repairs to the 45-year-old pipeline will cost, but county and local officials estimate it could reach into the millions of dollars.

The question of who is responsible for paying for repairs and maintenance of the IOI is a sore spot for county and city officials, who feel they’ve been overburdened with the costs.

Meanwhile, the commission denies it is financially responsible. This dispute is at the center of an ongoing lawsuit.

National Guard deployment

A spokesman for the Arizona Army National Guard said 15 soldiers and heavy equipment will arrive on Monday to Nogales to assist the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They will remain in the area for an unspecified amount of time.

All soldiers are specialized in horizontal construction engineering and will help prevent further flood erosion along the Nogales Wash, according to the National Guard. 

Their deployment will end when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determines the erosion has stabilized.

“The mission is a great training opportunity for the Arizona Army National
Guard engineers while at the same time benefiting the citizens of Arizona,”
said Lt. Col. Zoe Ollinger, director of military support for Joint Task
Force-Arizona. “The Guard is essential to facilitating an effective hazard
recovery response when disasters happen.”

In addition to the Corps of Engineers, local authorities and construction crews, the Arizona departments of Transportation and  Environmental Quality are involved in ongoing efforts to repair the IOI.

“My sincere thanks goes out to the emergency response teams who have been working day and night, often dealing with extreme conditions, to respond to these floods and ensure the safety of Arizona citizens,” Ducey said in a prepared statement on Friday. “We continue to make responding to this disaster a priority and will continue to work with our local and federal partners to make every necessary resource available.”


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