The IBWC Citizens’ Forum on July 2 was held via teleconference to inform the board and the general public on the latest news. USIBWC Operations Manager Nicolas Chapa gave a presentation on the commission’s projects in the California-Tijuana, Baja California region and projects to be developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.) Doug Liden, EPA environmental engineer Region 9, San Diego Border Office discussed projects in the Tijuana-San Diego area funded by U.S.-Canada-Mexico Agreement (USMCA.)
Liden said the EPA recently funded a Scripps Institution of Oceanography modeling to look at impacts of coastal flow of Tijuana river sewage as well as the flow coming from San Antonio de Los Buenos. “We don’t want a partial solution that only addresses one source,” he explained. The agency wants to be aware of the relative impacts of different sources to come up with a solution.
He said the projects will be evaluated by building on existing work: such as the Tijuana River Diversion Study funded with help of the North American Development Bank; the Senate Bill SB 507 for Needs and Opportunities Assessment - potentially looking at canyon drainage improvement within the U.S.; and looking at projects from CONAGUA that would help improve the Mexico side in consultation with CILA and Tijuana’s Water utility (CESPT.) Liden stressed that the project has to be binational in nature and the range of projects have to assessed.
Liden explained that SB 507 Needs and Opportunities Assessment project will be looked at in term of its feasibility as well as environmental impact of the U.S. side with a diversion and treatment system. He also said they are examining the idea of extending the treatment diversion in Mexico but treating those river flows in the U.S. with a separate treatment system before discharging in the ocean. To reduce the impact on the U.S., the agency is looking at expanding the wastewater treatment plant and wastewater capacity in Mexico and its pumping capacity. The treatment capacity in Mexico is a challenge to the country which includes the expense of pumping the water to the coast. Wastewater reuse in Mexico is a key component, according to Liden. He stressed that the more wastewater is reused in Mexico results in a lesser flow in the river, consequently a lesser flow to divert.
As far as the Project Implementation Process, Liden said the engineering process will be done concurrently with environmental process which allows to gain some time. Grouping some projects together is more effective for a more comprehensive solution. The agency will also look at cost sharing with Mexico which requires a 50 percent contribution by each side. Liden was not sure if the 50/50 share would be required if USMCA money is used. Once the final design and construction is finished, it will be decided who is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the facility.
Liden explained that an engagement group will be created to include stakeholders such as members of the EPA, IBWC, Army Corps of Engineers, North American Development Bank, Department of State, Custom and Border Protection, State of California, City of Coronado, City of Imperial Beach, City of San Diego to help guide this process. The input from those organizations and the public will be solicited and the first meeting will be held in late July. Liden said everyone is committed to a transparent process, holding regular public information meetings and webinar and also creating web platforms to share information.
The next step is to finalize the contract for the inner agency consultation group to start technical expert engagement and then report to the public on the steps.
Board members asked questions. One of them was related to the timeline of the project. Liden said the feasibility study will take 10 -12 months, the EIR will take a few more months after the feasibility study is completed. He expects to see preliminary timeline within a year, then it will be determined which project to fund first and which project will move forward faster to see faster results on the Mexico side.