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Tuesday, Jun 25, 2024

U.S., Mexican Agencies Fund $30M Toward Wastewater Mitigation

INFRASTRUCTURE: Projects Part of $474M Agreement Reached Last Summer

An end to the wastewater pollution problem in the Tijuana River watershed is getting closer in sight.

On May 4, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC) joined Mexico’s Comisión Nacional de Agua (CONAGUA) and the Comisión Estatal de Servicios Públicos de Tijuana (CESPT) to announce funding for two wastewater infrastructure projects that will reduce the risk of spill of up to 60 million gallons per day of untreated wastewater in the Tijuana River watershed.

The U.S. and Mexico will each contribute roughly half of the nearly $30 million cost of the projects.

Martha Guzman
Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator

The announcement marks the first substantive projects following the Treaty Minute 328 agreement reached last summer between EPA and CONGAGUA to fund $474 million in infrastructure to address longstanding wastewater problems that have led to beach closures and a wide array of environmental problems at the border’s coastal region.

“We are proud to celebrate this binational achievement,”  said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman.  “EPA has worked closely with the USIBWC, a wide range of stakeholders, and our Mexican counterparts to move forward on the joint U.S.-Mexico commitments outlined in the EPA-CONAGUA Statement of Intent and IBWC Treaty Minute 328 signed last summer. Today’s announcement means tangible progress toward reducing the pollution that affects our shared border communities.”

Maria-Elena Giner

The projects include replacing the International Collector, which will have the capacity to carry up to 60 million gallons  per  day of untreated sewage to the International Wastewater Treatment Plant; and rehabilitating Pump Station 1 which will pump  river water and excess wastewater to the Tijuana coast.

“This is a success story that shows what can be achieved when federal agencies, stakeholders and our Mexican partners work together to help their communities. Minute 328 gave us a roadmap for improving sanitation infrastructure projects in San Diego and Tijuana, and the USIBWC is committed to seeing this vision become a reality,”  said USIBWC Commissioner Maria-Elena Giner.

Beach Closures Bad for Business

Seeing the vision become reality cannot come a moment too soon for beach communities in the South Bay, which last year saw a record number of beach closures and health warnings due to sewage flows.

According to the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health and Quality, the Imperial Beach shoreline experienced a record 249 days of posted signs that restricted ocean access at its various beaches. The Silver Strand Shoreline had 133 days and the Coronado Shoreline, 51.

Serge Dedina
Executive Director

Serge Dedina, former mayor of Imperial Beach and executive director of marine conservation nonprofit Wildcoast, pointed out that beach closures and the sewage pollution have a “devastating impact” on the city’s businesses and community.

“People are just beside themselves because the biggest source of enjoyment and recreation in our community is gone,” he said. “Also, it’s really putting a damper on future economic development because it’s going to be challenging trying to get more economic investment when the beach is polluted 365 days a year.”

In recent years, Imperial Beach has worked to develop a shopping and dining district along Seacoast Drive and Palm Avenue to draw people out, even when beaches are closed.

“That has mitigated a little bit of the impact of the pollution – at least for tourists, but it’s going to put a damper on hotel development and other economic development,” he said.

More Projects Coming

In the announcement of the International Collector and Pump Station 1 projects, the U.S. and Mexican agencies also announced that rehabilitation of the Oriente Collector, another water infrastructure project, will be completed by the end of May.

Other sanitation projects outlined in the Treaty Minute 328 agreement include doubling the capacity of the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant (SBIWTP) in the United States and constructing a new treatment plant in Mexico at San Antonio de los Buenos. With these two projects, the amount of Mexican sewage undergoing treatment in the region will increase by 43 million gallons per day.

When all the projects in the Treaty Minute 328 agreement are completed and operational – estimated to be by the end of 2027 – officials expect a 50% reduction in the number of days of transboundary wastewater flow in the Tijuana River and an 80% reduction in the volume of untreated wastewater discharged to the Pacific Ocean six miles south of the border.


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