The San Diego County Board of Supervisors declared a public health crisis for the Tijuana River Valley on Feb. 10 during its regular meeting.

District 1 Supervisor Nora Vargas initiated this declaration. In her comments she brought up the issue of contamination in the river valley dating back to 1931, which has impacted the coastal communities in South Bay with poor air quality, litter, waste, tires and industrial waste. As a community representative, Vargas started working on the pollution since 1993.

“It undermines public health…for years the beach in Imperial Beach has consistently faced closures,” she said.

Vargas pointed out how not only the South Bay community suffers from the problem but also Border Patrol agents and Navy SEALs have been impacted by this crisis. She vowed to work with county staff following the declaration to bring in federal, state, bi-national and local organization together as a united voice to address this public health crisis. A representative for San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria also spoke in support of approving a public health crisis declaration.

Imperial Beach Councilwoman Paloma Aguirre pointed out that in 2020 the city’s shoreline was closed for a total of 160 days and Border Field State Park for 295 days which means there are a few recreational opportunities for residents. She also added that trails for hiking and horseback riding in the valley are now being destroyed by the pollution. In addition, the new campground opened by the county recently is also in close proximity to the valley with its pollution and raw sewage.

“South San Diego community deserves a clean and safe Tijuana River Valley to enjoy,” she said.

Aguirre praised Vargas for her work. Aguirre herself has worked on this issue for the past 15 years.

During the following comments, it was clarified that the declaration of a public health crisis serves to bring awareness to the importance of the problem but has no statutory power.

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said this pollution is one of the biggest threats in the county that impacts surfers all the way to North County. “We experience not only closed beaches but also health hazards created by untreated water and sewage. The catastrophe is disproportionally impacting the most vulnerable communities, especially communities of color. We can’t stand idly by. We must take action to confront this crisis,” she said

The declaration passed with a unanimous vote by all supervisors.

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