Jeannette Terrazas, Raymundo Aguilar and Raymundo Aguilar quickly worked at the topof a pedestrian bridgein Jurez Wednesday, December 28. They carefully tied the corners of the white banner with black lettering across a long line of cars that were waiting to cross the Bridge of the Americas to El Paso.
Spanish banner read “We are all the rivers” “We demand the restoration and protection of the Rio Bravo immediately!”
The Bridge of the Americas runs under the Rio Grande. Millions of gallons per day of wastewater have been flowing down El Paso-Jurez’s length since mid August.
Terrazas and Aguilarwere invitingfronterizosto think about the river they were crossing not just as a internationalboundary, but as a living ecosystem.Terrazas, a Jurez textile artist, said that it was a form environmental racism. He was referring to the sewage.
The Frontera Force wastewater main transports wastewater from West El Paso to theJohnT. Hickerson Water Reclamation Facility. El Paso Water determined that a diversioninto Rio Grande was the best way for human contact to the sewage when the pipeline and its backup burst.
El Paso Water connected its new wastewater pipeline the day after the banner drop. After a testing phase in January, the sewage discharge will end. El Paso Water, as well as government agencies, are now focusing their attention on the remediation process.
The saga of the sewage will continue into 2022, even though it has been one the most significant border stories in2021. Officials from Mexico recently acknowledged that sewage from Jurez also flows into the river every day. This is just the latest example environmental degradation of the Rio Grande. Advocates are calling on two countries to renew their commitment to cleaning up the river.
Activists call pollution a form of environmental racism
The smell of sewage from Rio Grande hangs in the air when I visited the Mexican side of American Canal on Dec. 28. Aguilars scrambled down the river bank to examine the murky water.
This is where New Mexico, Texas, and Chihuahua intersect. The river’s flow can be measured during irrigation season, and Mexico’s allocation is released to the south.
Aguilar said, “This isn’t the color the Rivershould be.” These bird prints are amazing. There is life. How can they act when the sewage doesn’t have an affect?
After watching how government neglect and encroaching development were affecting nearby mountains, Aguilar founded the collectiveDefensa De la Sierra de Ciudad Juez just over a decade ago. He considers Rio Grande an essential part of the region’s ecology that requires protection.
Aguilar stated, “The river is not longer fulfilling its utility of a river.” “It is meant to be a place for plants and animals, and to feed the water aquifers.”
Jeannette Terzas accompanied Aguilar as she documented the sewage flowing downstream from the American Dam. She draws inspiration from the Rio Grande to create her art, including the Rio Grande. Rio ArduinoJurez researchers say the project captures the songs and movements of migratory birds along the river. There are many speciesEnjoy the river ecosystem.
TerrazasSubmittedShe described her project as “The racist policies in Mxico’s border with the USA have eroded from the collective memory the notion of the Rio Grande being a living organism.”
Aguilar was happy to hear that the new wastewater main was finished on Dec. 29, but said they won’t stop there. He called El Paso Water to give a complete accounting of their plans for environmental remediation via the collective’s social media accounts.
More:Rio Grande’s sewage discharge is a wake-up call for water infrastructure requirements
El Paso Water starts the next stage in emergency response
El Paso Water asserts that the pipeline ruptures left them no other option than to divert wastewater into Rio Grande.
“The decision to dump the wastewater into the river wasn’t taken lightly,” Gilbert Trejo, El Paso Waterinterim chief operating officer, stated Wednesday. “It was a situation in which, with 10,000,000 gallons of wastewater flowing into this one point, there was only one location for that water to go.”
Initial environmental assessments found no toxic chemicals or substances in the wastewater. Before sewage enters the public system, industrial plants must treat it. El Paso Water says that although fish kills have not yet been reported, it has shown that vegetation has been affected.
More:El Paso Water finishes construction of new wastewater line to prevent sewage from reaching Rio Grande
The Hickerson Water Reclamation Facility will be operating at a reduced capacity for the next few weeks. The plant will continue to be monitored and the pipeline tested with low volumes.
The replacement line will be used to divert wastewater from the West Side into the river. The cleanup and mitigation process will then begin.
Rio Grande is under increasing scrutiny for wastewater dumping
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, (TCEQ), and the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) monitor El Paso Water’s response to ensure compliancewith theClean WaterAct. The TCEQ has most Clean Water Act enforcement authority, while the EPA has oversight.
Dec. 3 was the date that the Water Enforcement Branch, EPA Region 6, sent an information requestto El Paso Water & the Public Service Board. The letter requested documentation about the location and volumeof the wastewater discharge, mitigation activities and information on environmental damage assessment.
El Paso Water was allowed to provide the information for 20 days by EPA
The letter from the EPA states that “the information will be considered when evaluating the extent of your compliance to the federal regulations regarding unauthorized disposals of untreated wastewater into the sewer collection system owned and operated by El Paso Water Utilities.”
Jennah Durant, spokesperson for EPA Region 6, stated that the agency is looking for additional information to strengthen their oversight capacity. Denise Parra, El Paso Water spokesperson, said that El Paso Water has already provided most of the information and was granted an extension until January to provide additional details.
More:Rio Grande sewage discharge disrupts border gatherings Hugs Not Walls, Binational Mass
Protecting the border environment is a constant challenge
International implications are a result of the discharge. The La Paz Agreement, which was signed by the United States in 1983 by Mexico, requires both countries to limit air, land, and water pollution along the border. Each country can complain if the other pollutes its territory. Terrazas and Aguilar claim that the Mexican government has been passive in dealing with the El Paso water pollution.
The problem is not limited to one side. Untreated wastewater from Jurez is also entering the Rio Grande on an almost daily basis, a Mexican official said this month. TheComisino de Limites y aguas (CILA), Mexico’s counterpart in the United States, and the International Boundary and Water Commission of the USA (IBWC), apply water and boundary treaties between neighboring countries.
Jess Luvano, CILAsecretary told El Diario de JurezDec. 18, 2008: “Everyone is very alarm by the discharge form the United States. But we haven’t addressed the internal issue we’ve had for a while, which I believe is more complicated and more serious, because this has been going on since so long.”
He said that the total volume from Jurez could have been greater than El Paso’s. He said, “We are talking (about discharges) for years.”
More:Reparations to wastewater pipeline almost complete, discharge into Rio Grande to flow into Jan
Luvano declined to give an interview to the IBWC because each agency communicates with journalists within its country. The IBWC did not comment on the publication of this article. On December 28, wastewater was visible accumulating on streets in Jurez, just blocks away from the river.
Advocates call to restore and protect Rio Grande
Jeannette Terrazas feels that U.S. officials and Mexican officials have ignored the ecological damage caused by the sewage release. She stated that the problem is not limited to El Paso and Jurez, but that it reflects a wider disregard for the environment at the U.S.-Mexico frontier.
She stated that the government has not taken any action and that the same thing is happening in other parts along the river border. “They must know that we’re paying close attention.”
Terrazas y Aguilarwill closely follow El Paso Water cleanup. They are calling on border residents to support the river.Terrazas stated, “I hope that this is a turning point to begin recovering river.”
El Paso Water’s August sewage discharge has brought renewed attention on the river’s condition. However, any remediation that is done next will only address the long-standing problem with wastewater entering the Rio Grande.
Aguilar wrote about the collective’s “a river that once was fulloflifeis now in agony.”Facebook page. “We must take action on both sides to repair the damage to our only river, which is the river that gave life to our community.
Martha Pskowski is a staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org @psskowFollow us on Twitter.