Celebrating Progress to Improve Public Health and the Environment along the U.S. – Mexico Border

By Naseera Bland

Part of EPA’s mission is to make sure all communities have the opportunity to restore polluted waters or provide reliable water services. When I joined EPA’s Office of Water as an ORISE Fellow in 2015 I knew I wanted to make providing assistance to underserved communities a key aspect of my work. Lucky for me, I was offered the opportunity to support the office’s Border Water Infrastructure Program, which works with communities along with U.S.-Mexico border.

Many communities in this border-area are known as Colonias, which are small, unincorporated, and semi-rural subdivisions used as housing settlements. Most Colonias are economically distressed and often lack basic infrastructure, including access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. Residents often haul drinking water to their homes and rely on outhouses or inadequate septic systems. This lack of proper water infrastructure poses health risks and can result in the discharge of untreated sewage and pollutants such as ammonia and pathogens into nearby rivers. Since our two countries share the Rio Grande and the Tijuana rivers, it’s important that we work together to ensure the quality of shared waters and the protection of public health.

Since 2006 many Colonias homes in the border region have been connected to reliable sources of potable water and wastewater systems through the combined efforts of individuals, communities, and government agencies, including EPA. So far EPA’s Border Water Infrastructure Program has provided the funding for the planning, design, and construction of first-time drinking water access for approximately 69,365 homes and first-time wastewater treatment services 671,631 homes along the U.S.-Mexico border —significantly improving quality of life and public health and environmental protection.

One Colonia community in particular that I provided program support for is the Las Pampas Colonia of Presidio County in Southwest Texas. Community members and leaders of Presidio County worked with my team at EPA to begin construction of an $875,000 project to address some of their infrastructure needs. The completed project will provide a 300,000 gallon water storage tank, new water service lines, and a system to supply water to homes.

Victor Manuel Juarez, a Las Pampas colonia resident filling up his 500-gallon water tank at water pump station in Presidio County, TX

Victor Manuel Juarez, a Las Pampas colonia resident filling up his 500-gallon water tank at water pump station in Presidio County, TX

The continued effort and collaboration of partners in the border area will help us to improve the quality of life and environmental conditions of families and communities along the border.  I am glad my fellowship at EPA enables me to learn more about this important work.

About the author:  Naseera Bland is an ORISE fellow in EPAs Office of Wastewater Management. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland with studies in Environmental Science and Policy. Prior to her fellowship she was a contractor for EPAs Office of Research and Development.  

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