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State Budget Invests Heavily In The Future Of Tijuana River Valley

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Posted: Friday, July 5, 2019 3:39 pm

California shares more than 140 miles of our southern border with Mexico, and the flow of goods and people across the border have been critical to California’s success as the fifth largest economy. Our close proximity and shared values have resulted in one of the strongest economic, cultural, and social regions in the world. Trade between California and Mexico yields $70 billion per year.

But, as residents of the border region, we know that there are also many challenges that come with this proximity. Addressing shared environmental impacts such as water and air quality require cross-border solutions and binational cooperation.

The Tijuana River, which is within a binational watershed, is of particular concern. For nearly 40 years, the Tijuana River Valley has been plagued by discharge of trash, sediment and wastewater flowing from Mexico. These toxic transboundary flows have caused, and continue to cause, severe economic and environmental degradation due to the continued need to excavate, haul and dispose of pollution.

Recent rain storms have overwhelmed the International Sewage Treatment Plant and holding basins, sending more than 110 million gallons of toxic storm water north from Mexico since April, and devastating the beaches in Imperial Beach and Coronado. While we used to see these types of runoffs during mainly during rainstorms, we are now experiencing them during dry periods as well. Further illustrating the longevity and persistence of this public health crisis, the southernmost beaches of Imperial Beach have been completely closed since November 2018.

It is abundantly clear that the responsibility for controlling this discharge of pollutants lies with the federal government, namely the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC). However, the USIBWC has been looking the other way for almost four decades.

Last year I requested, and the state agreed, that the California Attorney General and San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board sue the USIBWC to compel them to assume their responsibility to clean up this mess. That action is moving forward, as are other lawsuits by the cities of Imperial Beach, Chula Vista and San Diego, the Port of San Diego, and Surfrider Foundation San Diego. But the judicial system moves slowly and, meanwhile, the onslaught of sewage and other trash continues.

Therefore, yet again because of inaction by the USIBWC, the State of California is stepping in to help in the interim. We cannot afford the continued destruction to our precious coastlines. The State Legislature and Governor recently approved my request for a $15 million allocation in the state budget for the Tijuana River Valley pollution control efforts. Although this is far beyond the state’s legal responsibility, Californians all recognize that we cannot stand idly by while our residents and tourists are poisoned, and our economy dwindles.

In 2017, I authored SB 507, which provided $500,000 to the County of San Diego to prepare a comprehensive study on the Tijuana River Valley. The County has released a draft list of 26 projects they believe will aid the cross-border pollution issues.

With the passage of this budget, we will now have funding available as soon as the final results of the study are released so that we can get right to work and not delay another minute. The past four decades prove that we, sadly, cannot rely on the USIBWC. The State of California is going above and beyond its legal responsibilities in taking this action. Now is the time for all watershed residents and jurisdictions to come together and play a role in creating and maintaining a healthy watershed for our families, businesses and visiting tourists.

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