Late last month, an equipment failure in the Southside Water Reclamation Plant in Albuquerque, New Mexico caused about six million gallons of sewage to spill into the Rio Grande.
Separate news outlets have offered conflicting accounts of how the plant’s equipment failed. On Wednesday, KUNM reported that a heavy snowstorm in the area caused a power spike that disabled the plant’s pumping station. On Friday, KOAT reported that the storm shut down both the plant’s main system and its backup system.
However, according to Plant Operations Manager Charles Leder, the backup system should have worked in either case. “Why they did not protect us from this power surge is under investigation because we thought we had just completed a $2.5 million facility that would take care of these things,” he told KUNM.
Following the spill, investigators discovered high levels of E. coli in the river. Ruben Lucero, who monitors water quality for Isleta Pueblo, said the E. coli levels “were off the charts.” Authorities have warned residents to avoid direct contact with the water for the time being.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time the Rio Grande has been polluted. The large river, which forms a good chunk of the U.S.-Mexico border, has a toxic history. In 2013, the Texas Tribune reported that five million gallons of raw sewage spills into the Rio Grande per. In the border town of Rio Bravo, the water is brown, full of dead animals and it reeks.
“The smell was terrible,” Amanda Perez, one of Rio Bravo’s commissioners, told the Tribune. You couldn’t stand it. […] I don’t have words to explain it.”
Historically, the pollution has been even worse than that. In the 1990s, border towns were dumping raw sewage directly into the river – an estimated 25 million gallons per day from Nuevo Laredo alone. According to the Tribune, doctors at the time warned that the water was so toxic it could actually kill swimmers.