The water quality at our border has been a highly contentious issue for decades. In the last 30 years, the city of Tijuana has experienced rapid population growth that the aging sewage infrastructure has not been able to support. Millions of gallons of sewage are flowing into the Pacific Ocean every day, causing contaminated waters and frequent beach closures. As someone who has lived in San Diego for my whole life, I believe that protecting the quality of our beaches should be a top priority. There has been water contamination since the 1930s but the problem has become much worse since the 1990s. In February 2017, 143 million gallons of raw sewage flowed into the Tijuana River and eventually onto our beaches. Since then, there have been hundreds of smaller spills into the river, resulting in a massive health and environmental hazard. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors needs to declare a State of Emergency in the area and provide annual funding to remove trash and chemicals from the water.
Those who are opposed to taking these actions believe that the money could be better utilized while recovering from the pandemic. Even though there are many other issues that require funding and attention, we can not wait any longer to find a solution for the pollution at the border. A large-scale cleanup of the Tijuana River Valley is long overdue and will benefit many people on both sides of the border. As coronavirus restrictions are easing and summer is coming, it is the perfect time to finally make our border beaches usable again. San Diego is also planning on opening a campground in the Tijuana River Valley this summer that will be virtually unusable if the area is not cleaned up. As the problem has been getting more attention from the media and the EPA, the county is starting to take it more seriously. With the recent momentum that the issue has gained, now is the time to demand a solution. In February, the San Diego Board of Supervisors unanimously declared the pollution in the river a public health crisis. This declaration has inspired hope in many people in the area, but environmentalists still want the area to be handled with more urgency.
It is important that the pollution in the Tijuana River Valley is officially declared a state of emergency. Every time it rains in Tijuana and San Diego raw sewage floods into the Tijuana River Valley and out to our local beaches. This sewage carries along many dangerous toxins that can hurt wildlife and humans. Even when it’s not raining, over 20 million gallons of sewage is released into the ocean each day out of a sewage treatment plant in Punta Bandera. This outflow is only five miles south of the border and is capable of contaminating the water as far north as Coronado, depending on the ocean currents. When millions of gallons of raw sewage are contaminating our water and our beaches, it has to be treated as an emergency that requires attention immediately. In 2020, the EPA pledged $300 million to identify the most effective infrastructure solutions, design them, and pay for the construction of the final product to reduce the most amount of pollution in the area. Although this is a good start, many of the proposed projects would require far more than $300 million and it will be many years before any infrastructure is completed. More funds are needed from the local government to clean up the area and help work towards a permanent solution.
The Surfrider organization’s mission to eliminate pollution in the border waters is led by Imperial Beach residents and does a lot of work to raise awareness for the issue and advocate for better policy. To help find a solution to this problem, you can donate to the organization Surfrider San Diego or send some of their letter templates to the governor, the mayor, and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. They even have one that specifically asks the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to declare a state of emergency in the area and fund a cleanup of the area. All of this is accessible through their website on the page for Clean Border Water Now. A state of emergency declaration will finally allow the Tijuana River Valley to get the funding and attention that it deserves.