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EPA Considers Projects To Fix Cross-Border Pollution Flows

Pollution warning sign in Imperial Beach, a region that has suffered from nea...

Photo by Erik Anderson

Above: Pollution warning sign in Imperial Beach, a region that has suffered from nearly constant sewage flows from Mexico since last November. Picture taken on May 5, 2020.

Federal officials are getting closer to identifying how they plan to control persistent cross-border sewage flows which routinely foul the San Diego ocean.

They talked publicly on Friday about ongoing efforts to fix a persistent problem, sewage coming from Tijuana which fouls a sensitive estuary in the United States and also contaminates the ocean.

Listen to this story by Erik Anderson.

“This is a priority for all of us,” said Andrew Sawyer, the director of EPA’s office of wastewater management. “You will likely see over the next coming months the engagement of the leadership here.”

The region’s Environmental Protection Agency office reviewed 12 possible solutions and has narrowed the list to three alternatives.

Those alternatives are not cheap. The most expensive would cost close to $566 million. The other options have price tags of $344 million and $336 million.

RELATED: EPA Close To Picking Cross-Border Sewage Fix, But Help Remains Far Off

All call for an expansion of the International Wastewater Treatment plant’s treatment capacity from the existing 25 million gallons of sewage a day to 60 million, 50 million or 40 million gallons a day.

There a plans to install trash booms on the Tijuana River, additional sewage pumping stations and proposals to boost Mexico’s ability to divert and control sewage flows before they come across the international border.

Narrowing the filed from 12 options to three is a major advance, but EPA officials acknowledge that immediate help may be more than a year away.

“While we fully understand the urgency of the issue and the desire to get started tomorrow with construction. We think we’ve developed a process that moves things really quite quickly and will enable us to begin to see real results,” said David Smith EPA Region 9

RELATED: Three San Diego County Beaches Ranked Among Cleanest In State

San Diego clean water advocates have long pushed to spend the $300 million in federal funds from the U.S., Canada, Mexico trade deal on a sewage treatment facility north of the border.

All of the options still being considered include work in Mexico.

And the timeline is a concern for people who have to live with beach closing linked to the cross-border flows.

Environmentalists are hoping for quick action, but they know the solutions will take time.

RELATED: Oceans Day 2021: Waters Off San Diego Rich With Life, But Under Assault

“Yes, we want to see the timeline advance as much as possible,” said Laura Walsh of Surfrider’s San Diego Chapter. “Today’s update does make it feel like there’s real commitment from people managing the project and studying the project, to move forward.”

Federal officials will do some additional analysis before they pick their final project.

It will likely be next year before a preferred project is identified.

There are some small-scale improvement projects to canyon collectors that could help in the short term.

Reported by Erik Anderson

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Photo of Erik Anderson

Erik Anderson
Environment Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI focus on the environment and all the implications that a changing or challenging environment has for life in Southern California. That includes climate change, endangered species, habitat, urbanization, pollution and many other topics.

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