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San Diego Officials Call Tijuana River Valley Sewage Flow A Public Health Crisis

Photo by Erik Anderson

Water moving through the Tijuana River Valley on the U.S. side of the international border on Mar. 5, 2020.

San Diego County declared a public health crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border because sewage tainted water continues to flow into the U.S. and the region endures a lot of other pollution.

All five members of the San Diego Board of Supervisors voted to approve it.

Listen to this story by Erik Anderson.

It is a new tactic for clean water groups concerned about pollution in the area.

Instead of an environmental emergency, the situation is declared a public health crisis, requiring the county to take action.

Advocates hope to see some immediate action in the Tijuana River Valley on the U.S. side of the border.

Reported by Erik Anderson

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“A large scale water clean-up and hopefully a better watershed management program in the Tijuana River Valley,” said Gabriella Torres of the Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego Chapter.

Persistent sewage-tainted flows have run into the valley for years, and the situation did not improve this winter.

Environmental advocates say the region needs action.

“We propose going a step further and immediately start a clean-up in the Tijuana River valley,” Torres said. “And our concern is based on the fact that there is a public campground due to be opening this year in the area. And it’s not clean. And that is why we’re asking the county to go a step further.”

The resolution was offered by new supervisor Nora Vargas.

“This action is long overdue in an area that is faced with poor air quality, sewage leaks, waste from industrial plants, the litter of waste-tires that can become breeding sources for disease-carrying mosquitoes, plastic pollution, sediment, and trash," said the resolution. “This direct environmental impact coupled with the long-lasting health impact undermines our region's public health.”

Federal officials have proposed spending up to $300 million on pollution control projects aimed at slowing the flow of cross-border sewage, but it remains unclear when those projects will begin.

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State officials have a trash boom catching plastic trash that enters the U.S. in Smugglers Gultch, but there is no locally funded effort to clean up the other garbage that has accumulated in the Tijuana River Valley.

The resolution passed by supervisors calls on the county to take action to protect the public’s health.

“In declaring pollution at the Tijuana River Valley as a public health crisis, we are acknowledging that the diverse sources of contamination have a direct correlation to health outcomes in our South County and coastal communities,” the resolution stated. “As a public health agency for the region, the County, along with federal, state, and other local agencies, has a responsibility to address the issue head-on in order to improve the overall health of residents in our binational region.”


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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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