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Tijuana’s Sewage System Needs Major Upgrades

Polluted water flowing out of Goat Canyon into the Tijuana River Valley near ...

Credit: Office of City Councilmember David Alvarez

Above: Polluted water flowing out of Goat Canyon into the Tijuana River Valley near the U.S.– Mexico border, March 2, 2017.

Environmental Protection Agency officials estimate the Tijuana sewage system needs $400 million in improvements and repairs to handle the sewage flow created in the city.

Federal officials explained what has happened since February and March when rain-swollen flows from Mexico carried millions of gallons of raw sewage into the U.S.

"The wastewater structure is aging in Tijuana, pipe collapses are becoming more common," said Steve Smollens, of the International Boundary and Water Commission. The IBWC is the federal agency charged with dealing with cross-border sewage issues.

An IBWC investigation found more than 250 million gallons of sewage was unaccounted for in those two rain-soaked months. One single sewer line collapse in Tijuana spewed 28 million gallons of raw sewage into the Tijuana River, fouling waters off the San Diego coast.

Resident Baron Partlow attended the meeting. He said he is tired of what he sees as inaction and he thinks the U.S. should sanction Mexico by closing the border if the sewage continues to flow.

RELATED: Federal Officials Discuss Cross-Border Sewage Spills At Public Hearing

"We can close the port of entry to San Ysidro for five hours a day from midnight to five o'clock when it is most inconvenient for them to make their money in this country," Partlow said.

Many at the meeting expressed their frustration about the impact on the ocean, wildlife and public health. Residents said the stench from the flows was unprecedented.

There are things that can be done on this side of the border, according to Gabrielle Torres. The Surfrider Foundation member is working on stepping up water quality testing in the Tijuana River Valley. She also wants new testing results to be current and easy for people to find.

"The Mexican side Cilla and the U.S. side acknowledge that there were problems with the notification and it was shocking for all the residents and the non-profit organizations that they basically had to pursue more information. It should have just been readily available," Torres said.

Surfrider Foundation hopes to double the amount of testing currently being done in the Tijuana River Valley. Torres wants to see the results posted faster and made more accessible.

Mexican officials have been more responsive since March, helping keep several large spills from reaching U.S. waters, according to IBWC officials. Mexico also bought new equipment to improve handling of sewer line collapses.

"They have $6 million at this point in time to repair those collectors. They've also ordered and received a large truck-mounted by-pass pump to allow manhole-to-manhole bypasses for future work," said Smollens of the IBWC.

But U.S. Officials say that is hardly sufficient.

Environmental Protection Agency officials estimate the Tijuana sewage system needs $400 million in improvements and repairs to handle the sewage flow created in the city.

Funding is an issue on this side of the border as well. President Donald Trump's budget zeros out federal dollars targeting border sewage issues.

Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina said the region's congressional delegation is pushing back.

"Our goal is to get funding from the appropriations committee in the Trump budget for the EPA's border infrastructure plan and that's where we're going. The entire congressional delegation of San Diego has supported that," Dedina said.

It is not a partisan or political issue, according to Dedina, who said it is about improving the quality of life and the quality of the ocean in south San Diego County.

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