Locals in Imperial Beach and Coronado may not be aware that the currently proposed plan that is called The TRV (Tijuana River Valley) Stakeholders Solution as proposed by the Surfrider Foundation, North American Development Bank (NAD), and supported by the Mayor of Imperial Beach and his non-profit corporation Wildcoast could result in the quadrupling of the amount of treated sewage being dumped off Imperial Beach from the current 25 million gallons a day (mgd) to more than 100 million gallons a day. Anywhere else in the United States, this sewage dump would be illegal and a direct violation of the Clean Water Act.
The Clean Water Act of 1972 set the requirement that all rivers in the United States had to be swimmable and drinkable.
This plan relies on the same flawed methodology used when both Bob Filner (former San Diego Mayor) and Vice President Al Gore in July 1994 claimed to have delivered “a knockout blow to Tijuana Sewage in this river valley”. Here we sit 25 years later and it seems all we have done is to pay and process Mexico’s sewage free of charge. Ten years after the announcement by Al Gore and Bob Filner, the U.S. taxpayer has paid $338 Million dollars to construct the IBWC sewage treatment plant which only processes Mexican sewage to the tune of 25 mgd. This sewage is only treated to high primary treatment levels and then is dumped off Imperial Beach through the South Bay Ocean Outfall (SBOO). Currently, the US taxpayers spend nearly $14 Million a year in operational costs to maintain that facility.
So, after spending a total of $638 million dollars of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars on construction and maintenance over the last 25 years, we still have polluted ocean waters off Imperial Beach and Coronado. We also have a contaminated and dying U.S. Wildlife Refuge with an 1800 acre County park located in the Tijuana River Valley which is has been severely compromised by trash, toxins and sewage.
Fortunately, over the last 25 years there are a few winners in this scheme. First and foremost is Mexico - which gets free sewage treatment at the expense of U.S. taxpayer. Mexico gets to dump its sewage off the shores of the U.S. communities of Imperial Beach and Coronado with no tangible repercussions. This water pollution also threatens the U.S. Navy’s investment into the new Seal Team training facility at the foot of the Silver Strand. While these servicemen represent the tip of spear for the U.S. military, Mexico seems to be able to put these best and brightest men and women of our military at serious risk without adverse consequences.
The second group of individuals who stand to benefit from the dumping of Mexican sewage in U.S. territorial waters are the Non-Governmental (NGO) environmental groups and the lawyers who are now suing the U.S. government. They stand to potentially reap huge dollar settlements when these cases are brought before U.S. courts. Also, coincidently, since the 2004 agreement to dump 25 million gallons of untreated Mexican sewage off Imperial Beach these same (NGO) environmental groups have purchased and received thousands of acres of coastal land along the Mexican Baja coast. These two groups who have benefited over that last 25 years are set to benefit again if the Tijuana River Valley (TRV) Stakeholder Solution is approved and carried out.
Many Imperial Beach and Coronado citizens are not aware of the explosive rate of growth that is going on right across the border in Mexico and how that will affect the water quality off our coastline. There are 80,000 new homes planned for construction between Tecaté and Tijuana. To put this in perspective, when the Eastlake development in Chula Vista was planned it only included 10,000 homes. This growth will create a higher level of sewage capacity. However Mexico is not building any new sewage treatment plants. Why? Based on the last 25 years of U.S. border policy it makes sense that they believe they don’t have to. The same two groups cited above who benefit from the dumping of sewage, namely Mexico and the US-based NGO environmental organizations, are pushing for the United States congressional representatives to pay again for the sewage treatment of the 80,000 homes being built in Mexico. Currently the estimated cost to the U.S. is $439 million and another $1.5 billion if the NAD bank gets the monies they have requested from Congress. They have convinced our political leadership that this is the only way to solve this problem.
As reported in the Coronado Times on July 22, 2019 a group of U.S. Congressional representatives announced the Tijuana River Valley Pollution Solution bill package. It seems that the current California congressional leadership is repeating the same mistakes made 25 years ago which is to pay for and process Tijuana’s sewage and then dump it in U.S. territorial waters. This is a violation of the principles of the Clean Water Act.
Unfortunately for these congressional representatives, they have failed to do their own research and investigate the history of the cross border sewage problem. With a quick one hour review of the facts they would quickly realize the flawed basis of design outlined by the North American Development Bank (NAD). This plan, if implemented, could increase the amount of sewage dumped off Imperial Beach, cost a prohibitive amount of U.S. taxpayer money, our ocean water will still be polluted and we will be facing this same problem 20 years from now when Tijuana grows out of our capacity to process and pay for their sewage waste treatment. If allowed to proceed with new construction plans, the partially treated, toxic sewage dumped off Imperial Beach and Coronado would continue to make the water quality worse for our communities.
Hopefully, these congressional representatives are smart people and if they would consider some additional facts and concerns raised by the Citizens for Coastal Conservancy, a recently formed Imperial Beach non-profit group, they would come to better understand how the NAD plan is seriously flawed and there is a better permanent sustainable solution to cross-border pollution flow.
If you would like to know more about an alternate plan, a presentation will be given at the upcoming IBWC Citizen’s Advisory Board meeting to be conducted at the Tijuana River Visitor Center located at 301 Caspian Way, Imperial Beach, CA 91932 on Thursday Dec. 5, 2019 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.