The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC), conducted an HIA to inform the village of Vinton of the health impacts of proposed water and sanitation improvement projects. Vinton is a small border town with high levels of unemployment and poverty, and limited infrastructure. Its water-supply system is inadequate. Portions of the community are connected to two private suppliers who draw from local wells, and a portion of the community is connected to the public water supply. The private water supplies are contaminated with arsenic and industrial pollutants, sporadically exceeding drinking water standards. Vinton also relies on failing septic tanks and cesspools for wastewater collection and treatment. Shallow domestic wells are potentially contaminated from septic systems and cesspools. Health concerns related to poor water quality include gastrointestinal illnesses and ailments such as giardia, dysentery and associated dehydration, and hepatitis. Better systems are expected not only to improve public health but also to support economic development and long-term sustainability of local businesses and industry. Although previous discussions focused on engineering feasibility and cost, the HIA ensured that these health impacts were considered in Vinton’s deliberations.
The HIA found that the water and sanitation improvement projects should connect the village of Vinton to El Paso Water Utilities, seek funding from all appropriate sources (including federal, state, local, and private), and install the appropriate number of hydrants for public safety.
The university and PAHO are also working with BECC and the North American Development Bank to develop a model for using assessments to inform certification and funding decisions on this and many similar projects overseen by these agencies. This HIA will contribute to developing a model for other projects on the U.S.-Mexico border.
By providing information and education about the proposed projects, the HIA fostered greater community engagement and empowerment among border communities that have had a marginalized voice in development projects. In addition to releasing the HIA report, UTEP provided a written summary of the results for Vinton to present to the Texas Water Development Board to show how poor water quality can harm public health. As a result of this letter and additional constituent voices, Vinton received $2.7 million to design and develop a new water system and has been promised an additional $27 million to cover the cost of putting it in place. The decision from the Texas Water Development Board places Vinton at No. 4 statewide on a list of water infrastructure projects to be funded.
This Health Impact Assessment Report first appeared in The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health. The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health was originally developed by the Health Impact Project, formerly a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The creation of this resource was supported by a grant from the Health Impact Project. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts, or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.