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EPA launches environmental review on transborder water projects

Posted at 4:53 PM, Nov 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-09 15:58:04-05

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The Environmental Protection Agency will move forward with environmental review of several water infrastructure projects intended to address transborder water pollution from the Tijuana River, it was announced Monday.

"In order to protect public health and vital ecosystems in this vibrant area, we need a bold solution to the transboundary water pollution challenge," said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox.

The Tijuana River often carries untreated wastewater, trash and other pollutants from Mexico across the border into the United States. In addition, polluted discharge into the Pacific Ocean from Tijuana's wastewater treatment plant is carried northward during the summer, impacting beaches in southern San Diego County.

The infrastructure projects announced Monday are expected to substantially reduce impacts to the U.S., an EPA statement read.

"Communities along California's southern border have been plagued with toxic pollution from Mexico for too long, in part because no single agency was responsible for the issue," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California. "These projects will help significantly improve the health and quality of life for our border communities."

Congress appropriated $300 million for infrastructure intended to address transborder pollution in 2020 through the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

The cost of the "holistic" solution proposed Monday exceeds the appropriated amount, but Fox said the EPA will implement a "phased approach in the design and construction of the various infrastructure projects."

The agency said it will continue to engage the public and stakeholders during the environmental review process and will work with its counterparts in Mexico.

"I stand ready to support future budget requests to make this project a reality," said Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego.

For many years, Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina has hoped to find solutions in stopping the sewage and pollution problems that plague the water near his city and the southern San Diego region.

Dedina told ABC 10News’ Mary McKenzie that the EPA’s plans are the most promising and comprehensive solution to the issues that he’s ever heard.

“Sewage has ruined my health, my kids don’t want to surf in IB anymore, I can’t surf in IB anymore because I’ll only get sick. I’ve had ear infections, sinus surgery twice, a hole in my ear that I had to get operated on,” Dedina said.

Some of the projects included in Monday's infrastructure announcement include:

  • Expanding the existing South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant owned and operated by the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission;
  • Diverting and treating Tijuana River water at a new facility adjacent to the existing treatment plant; and
  • Repairing portions of the collection system in Mexico to prevent sewage leaks.

“If we would’ve had that system in place last year, we wouldn’t have 300 days of closed beaches or 200 days of closed beaches thi year. We’re in a crisis situation, so everything they do will make a difference,” said Dedina.

As the EPA assesses infrastructure options, a National Environmental Policy Act review will move forward with the intent to reduce potential negative environmental impacts from the projects. This legally mandated review is needed before design and construction can begin.

The USMCA was passed in 2020 to update and replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.