Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Environment

Mexico and US agree to clean up cross-border pollution

Mexico is promising to invest $144 million in an effort to reduce the flow of sewage crossing the border.

Government representatives from Mexico and the United States gathered on the edge of the Tijuana River Estuary to sign an unprecedented agreement aimed at fixing the region’s long-running cross-border sewage flows.

The pollution problem has been getting worse for years.

The situation was punctuated by a major sewer system breakdown over two weeks ago that allowed tens of millions of gallons of untreated sewage to cross the border and reach the ocean.

Two major sewage pipes in Tijuana’s Matadero Canyon broke more than two weeks ago. One pipe is fixed and being slowly returned to service. The other might not be repaired for another month.

Those spills and sewage drifting north from Tijuana’s broken San Antonio de los Buenas sewage plant have closed South County beaches for much of the summer.

“It’s devastating,” Imperial Beach City Councilmember Paloma Aguirre said about the nine weeks of beach closures her community has endured. The beach north of the city’s pier is typically open for swimming in the summer when there is no rain to wash the sewage out to sea.

The agreements signed on Thursday could change that in the long run.

Treaty minute 328, an addition to a 1944 water treaty between the two nations, and a statement of intent identify specific projects that will bring relief on both sides of the border.

Projects include an expansion of a sewage treatment plant on the U.S. side of the border, fixing Tijuana’s sewage treatment plant, and repairing sewage pipes in the Mexican city.

“The efforts are expected to address a need that has prevailed for many years in the communities of San Diego-Tijuana,” said Adriana Reséndez Maldonado, the Mexican commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission.

Mexican officials have committed to spending $144 million on projects that will improve the conditions in the Tijuana River Valley.

“We owe Mexico a lot of credit for stepping up in this really significant way to deal with the problems on its side of the border,” said Scott Peters, a member of San Diego’s congressional delegation. “And to share this responsibility with us because we are one region. And that’s a very fundamental thing.”

Mexican officials say the sewer upgrades will improve the quality of life on both sides of the border.

Many of the projects identified in the agreements came from a comprehensive review of the situation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA identified a host of projects that should nearly stop the flow of sewage into the ocean during dry weather. The price tag topped $630 million.

The EPA secured $300 million as part of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal adopted during the Trump administration. Another $30 million will come from project funds focused on border pollution issues.

Work is already underway on environmental reviews for some of the major projects, and construction on the International Sewage Treatment Plant expansion could begin as early as 2024.

The financial commitment from Mexico means that a solution is closer to reality.

“We don’t have to wait too much longer,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said. “With the commitments that are being made today to the projects and the funding sources, we can get this done, open up the beaches for the children of this community on both sides of the border who’ve been denied the opportunity that is enjoyed by children all across both countries.”

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.