Pima County preps for Nogales sewage spread

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Enough rain near Nogales could drive raw sewage right up the Santa Cruz, right past downtown Tucson and farther north.

The Santa Cruz can run hard and high when it was dry just a few minutes before.

Any storm runoff will be contaminated but now there's a chance the Santa Cruz could flow with especially high concentrations of sewage from the large, cross-border sewage line that broke near Nogales.

If people or cars end up stuck in that water, Tucson Firefighters rushing to rescue them could walk right into that sewage.

Tucson Fire says firefighters will still wade into trouble to save lives.  They've had vaccines to protect them from some of the illnesses they could get from dirty water and after going in dirty water they may get medical checks to be sure what they were exposed to has not endangered them.

Pima County's Emergency Operations Center is watching the water flows, with a long list of agencies ready to staff the center and cope with the emergency.

Courtney Bear of Pima County Emergency Management says, “If this comes to Pima County and we need to start addressing it, we need to start bringing in the City of Tucson, Tucson Water, we need to start bringing our county partners in, we'll staff up this room and get everybody going and enact plans to help protect our citizens."

The Ops Center is equipped to watch weather and how hard the washes are flowing.

Courtney Bear says, “If it comes to that point where it's coming through here, we're gonna want to actively test. All we're recommending right now is that people just stay out of the Santa Cruz River.  Don't get in it.  Don't play around in it.  Keep your kids out of it.  We don't know what that threat is until the water starts moving and we actually test and see.  It could be diluted out.  We just don't know until we test."

Because the sewer line crosses from Mexico, fixing it and maintaining it is actually a matter of international sewage diplomacy with the U.S. State Department involved. 

Senators McCain and Flake and Congress Members Grijalva and McSally have worked to get a law through Congress to help lift a lot of the maintenance burden off the City of Nogales.

Pima County has set up an alert system to update you on the sewer line break.

Text IOINOGALES to 888-777.

The county is set to alert you to other county emergencies through myalerts.pima.gov.

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