SAN DIEGO (Border report) – As you hike through the Tijuana River Valley, it’s hard not to smell the pungent smell of sewage flowing through the valley toward the Pacific Ocean.
It has been a problem for decades as Tijuana’s wastewater infrastructure cannot keep up with a city that has grown to two million residents seemingly overnight. The system constantly spits out raw, untreated sewage that eventually ends up north of the border.
In 1999, the International Wastewater Treatment Plant was built in the valley north of the border to address the problem.
“It captures wastewater from Tijuana, treats it and discharges it three miles offshore. Otherwise, if this plant didn’t exist, all of this untreated sewage and sewage would come down and impact us here in south San Diego,” said Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre.
The city of Aguirre has borne the brunt of the sewage problem, as sewage pollutes the coast and its beaches, making them off-limits to visitors and residents alike.
When the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement was launched during the Trump administration, funds were allocated for border cleanup projects, including mitigation work in the Tijuana River Valley.
Two years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it had secured $300 million to begin cleaning up the valley and upgrading wastewater treatment and pumping stations in the area.
Funding was to be administered by the International Boundary and Water Commission for work on both sides of the border.
However, according to Aguirre, the money has not yet arrived and is stuck in a Republican-controlled Congress.
“The uphill battle is getting it through Congress because the House has a Republican majority that doesn’t seem as open to wanting to approve this funding,” Aguirre said.
The mayor fears that if the money doesn’t come soon, it might be too late.
“A few months ago we discovered that the facility was in complete disrepair and needed over $150 million worth of repairs, so half of the original $300 million had already been swallowed up.”
Aguirre said there is a need for an additional $310 million — money that President Joe Biden called for in a recently proposed emergency spending bill.
“We’ve waited decades, we’ve waited 20 years to solve this problem, it’s not rocket science,” she said. “Not to mention the public health of over 750,000 people in South San Diego. What we really need is the political will of our president and our governor to stand up for us on this issue because as Californians, no one should live in these conditions.”
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