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Environment

Top US and Mexico officials discuss fixes to the region's cross-border pollution problem

The head of the U.S. EPA was in Mexico this week discussing how the two countries will stop the renegade sewage flows.

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was in Tijuana this week discussing the cross-border sewage flow issue with Mexican officials.

Michael Regan and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, met with Mexican officials to discuss the EPA’s plan for the region.

“There’s a sense of urgency because of the economic loss, the lack of access to our beaches,” Regan said. “We want to look at all of the tools in our toolbox.”

EPA officials recently unveiled their plan to keep the sewage-tainted water flows out of coastal waters. The strategy includes building a new water treatment plant north of the border, expanding the existing international wastewater plant and creating a system to catch flows that enter the U.S. in the Tijuana River.

RELATED: EPA's plan to fix cross-border sewage cheered by locals

The Mexican border town of Tijuana is shown in the distance near the Tijuana Estuary, foreground, near Imperial Beach, Calif., Jan. 7, 2008.
Associated Press
The Mexican border town of Tijuana is shown in the distance near the Tijuana Estuary, foreground, near Imperial Beach, Calif., Jan. 7, 2008.

The nearly $600 million effort also includes designs to improve sewage capture systems in Tijuana, rerouting treated water into the reservoir behind Rodriguez dam and a new treatment plant south of Tijuana.

“Both countries are really concerned about the public health threats of this pollution,” Regan said. “But we also see a tremendous opportunity. That if we leverage our resources and make strategic investments that will be more resilient than the past that this will create an opportunity for economic development, jobs and the protection of public health.”

“There’s a sense of urgency because of the economic loss, the lack of access to our beaches,” Michael Regan said. “We want to look at all of the tools in our toolbox.”

Regan said the United States is already starting work on improving canyon capture systems on the U.S. side of the border and they hope to break ground on the sewage treatment plants next year.

The EPA already has $300 million set aside as part of the USMCA trade deal negotiated by the Trump Administration.

RELATED: EPA announces plan to stop cross-border sewage flows

U.S. officials say Mexico will have to be part of the funding equation.

“For the government of Mexico and for the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, it is of the highest priority to ensure access to a healthy environment, therefore, this type of collaboration clearly demonstrates that together with our determination and abilities, we can solve the challenges presented to us in this and other environmental issues,” said Miguel Ángel Zerón, head of International Affairs in SEMARNAT.

A joint statement from the two countries recognized the importance of solving the issue for people on both sides of the border.

“The fact that we have President Biden’s cabinet member here leading the EPA,” said Salazar. “Putting a focus on these issues and putting together organization to address these issues both for the short term and always for the longer term is in itself, I think, an historic day.”

RELATED: Massive sewage flow fouls South Bay beaches

Cross-border flows of sewage-tainted water have grown significantly in the past few years, with billions of gallons of polluted water reaching the ocean north of the international border.

EPA officials hope carrying out their plan will help eliminate up to 95% of the flows that currently cross the border.

Planned improvements include;

  • Expanding the existing South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant (ITP) owned and operated by the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC).
  • Diverting and treating Tijuana River water at a new facility adjacent to the existing ITP.
  • Conveying canyon flows to the expanded ITP.
  • Repairing portions of the collection system in Mexico to prevent sewage leaks.
  • Beneficially reusing treated wastewater instead of discharging it into the Tijuana River.
  • Installing a river trash boom.
  • Constructing a new San Antonio de los Buenos Treatment Plant in Tijuana.