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EPA announces plan to stop cross-border sewage flows

Trash fills a binational waterway in the Tijuana River Valley near the San Diego-Mexico border, Jan. 5, 2016.
Susan Murphy
Trash fills a binational waterway in the Tijuana River Valley near the San Diego-Mexico border, Jan. 5, 2016.

The Environmental Protection Agency is making a major move to stop cross-border sewage flows that foul ocean waters off the coast of San Diego.

EPA announces plan to stop cross-border sewage flows

The federal agency is proposing spending more than $630 million dollars to capture and clean dirty water on both sides of the U.S. Mexico border.

The region has long suffered from sewage tainted flows that come from Tijuana, where an overwhelmed sewage system has long been incapable of handling the city’s wastewater flows. Last month, more than 500-million gallons of sewage tainted water flowed across the border in a span of just four days.

RELATED: Massive sewage flow fouls South Bay beaches

The EPA decided to take a comprehensive approach to fixing the sewage problem with a solution designed to fix the problem until at least 2050.

“These are all such critical projects that really represent, in our view, a holistic and comprehensive solution to the challenge,” said EPA Administrator Radhika Fox.

That means doubling the capacity of the international wastewater treatment plant. That plant on the U.S. side of the border currently treats flows that cross the border in the region’s canyons. The federal government wants to build another U.S. treatment plant nearby which will capture and treat flows in the Tijuana River.

“The proposed 60 million gallons per day, advanced primary treatment plant would treat all dry weather river flows, along with some wet weather flows,” said Ami Cobb, an EPA official. “The implementation of a U.S. side river diversion would have the ability to act as a backup for Mexico’s diversion as well as divert larger flows.”

And federal officials hope to improve sewage infrastructure south of the border, including diverting Tijuana River water into the Rodriguez Dam reservoir and building treatment facilities south of the Mexican city.

RELATED: EPA Considers Projects To Fix Cross-Border Pollution Flows

U.S. officials say they are talking to Mexico about funding projects south of the border like the proposed San Antonio de Los Buenos sewage treatment facilities south of Tijuana.

“It’s still a little bit uncertain,” said Tomas Torres, of the EPA’s Region Nine office. “But we’re working with Mexico on a bi-weekly basis to confirm priorities and commitments as we go.”

EPA officials have less than half of the $630 million needed for all the projects. Part of the price, $300 million, was set aside as part of the Trump Administration’s United States, Canada, and Mexico trade deal. The EPA says that money will allow the agency to start work on expanding the existing international sewage plant.

The EPA says additional funding could come from the federal government, state government and even from Mexico.

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

Federal officials hope to begin environmental reviews, required by the National Environmental Policy Act, next year. They expect a speedy review on the expansion of the existing plant and the construction of a nearby facility.

The Tijuana River diversion project could take much longer because it will disturb more habitats.

“Diverting water out of a river, you usually have to go into very detailed analysis of how that’ll affect riparian habitat, and the estuary and endangered species,” said Doug Eberhardt, of the EPA.

Officials hope to begin design work as early as next near on parts of the project. The first shovel could be in the ground in 2024.

The Environmental Protection Agency, has decided to spend more than $630 million to expand the existing international sewage plant at the border, build a new sewage plant nearby and add other sewage infrastructure near the border. Plus: climate change at home, hiring more teachers for kids with special needs and more of the local news you need.