With the notice from the County of San Diego that there will be a re-opening of some businesses starting on Friday May 8, it is clear that we are moving forward toward a slow and phased entry out of this health crisis. Does that mean there is no longer a threat from COVID-19? Absolutely not. Unless there is an approved vaccine, the disease will be as deadly as ever for some. That is why practicing physical distancing, wearing a face covering in public (within six feet of another person or inside an essential business) and practicing hand washing hygiene is so critical to staying safe. For many, especially our seniors and those with chronic health conditions, a return to a normal life may take many months if not longer.
What is clear is that the highest infection rates in San Diego County are in south San Diego, Chula Vista and National City That is why practicing physical distancing is so important. Testing is being made available, so if you have COVID-19 symptoms, please immediately consult your doctor. A system of mass testing and contact tracing will help San Diego County public health officials minimize the spread of the infection. According to UCSD scientists, if the State of California and the County of San Diego would not have enacted the stay and home order and prohibition on public gathering, more than 12,000 people would have died countywide.
I would like to especially thank all of the essential workers, medical staff and public safety crews who have kept us safe during this crisis. We appreciate their service and sacrifice. Meanwhile our City of Imperial Beach staff and councilmembers, along with all of the community volunteers and the members of the Mayor’s Task Force on COVID-19 have done a tremendous job of addressing the humanitarian and economic dimensions of the crisis. Thank you all.
Unfortunately not only has our little beach town suffered as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, but we have experienced the worst border pollution crisis in our history. Since November 2019, as a result of the collapse of Tijuana’s sewer system an average of over 50 to 60 million gallons a day of raw sewage have been discharged into the Tijuana River. This has resulted in ultra polluted conditions along our shoreline according to the testing by the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health. The Tijuana River has also resulted in a horrible stench along the southern portion of Imperial Beach and along beach neighborhoods.
During this time of year, with no rain, there should be zero river flow. However, the PB-CILA pump station that takes an average of around 20 million gallons a day of treated and untreated sewage out of the river, is non-operational and an extra 30-40 million gallons a day of raw sewage is being discharged into the river in Tijuana. Pressuring the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) and the Mexican government to fix the multiple non-operational sewer pumps in Tijuana has required an extensive effort by the City of Imperial Beach and our partners.
The City of Imperial Beach has demanded that emergency repairs be made in communications and/or virtual meetings with Mexican President Lopez Obrador’s Border Affairs Advisor Pedro Romero, Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis, EPA Region 9 Administrator John Bosterud, Senator Ben Hueso, International Boundary and Water Commission Commissioner Jayne Harkins, Mexico’s Ambassador to the U.S. Martha Barcena, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau, U.S. Consul in Tijuana Sue Saarnio, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, CESPT Director Rigoberto Laborin, and County Supervisor Greg Cox among others as well as our Congressional delegation.
Until recently, the International Boundary and Water Commission claimed that there was no sewage crisis and that high river flows were due to runoff from rain on April 13. Soon after an April 28 press conference I participated in with Senator Hueso, San Diego Councilmember Vivian Moreno, Port Commissioner Dan Malcolm, Mayor Pro Tem Paloma Aguirre and Councilmember Ed Spriggs, the International Boundary and Water Commission released a statement that there were multiple sources of pollution impacting the river. Immediately after that, Ambassador Barcena informed San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Congressman Juan Vargas that Mexico had released funds to repair the damaged pumps in May (of course we will be monitoring the situation). As of this writing due to our pressure campaign the flow rate had been cut almost in half but obviously that flow rate needs to be zero.
This ongoing sewage crisis is exactly why the City of Imperial Beach, State of California, City of San Diego, City of Chula Vista and the Port of San Diego sued the International Boundary and Water Commission to enforce the U.S. Clean Water Act and build the necessary diversion infrastructure on the U.S. side of the border in the Tijuana River Valley to stop sewage flows. The recommended diversion plan is additionally supported by the City of Coronado and the County of Diego. EPA 9 Region 9 Administrator John Bosterud recently informed me that EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler supports the full expenditure of $300 million allocated by the U.S. Congress to fix this problem on the U.S. side of the border rather than spending federal funds in Mexico. Meanwhile we continue to pressure and demand that the IBWC and their counterparts in Mexico carry out the necessary emergency repairs to eliminate this pollution plague from our shorelines.