From my Southwest Surf Column of May 18, 2011:
Last Friday I attended the inauguration of the new upgrade of the International Wastewater Treatment Plant in San Ysidro.
This ribbon-cutting event marked the end of a decade-long effort to have the plant, which discharges treated sewage into the Pacific Ocean, meet Clean Water Act standards. In accordance with a binational treaty, the plant treats 25 million gallons a day of sewage collected in Tijuana and treated less than a mile north of the border.
The new plant will mean that the ocean outfall pipe located more than three miles from shore just north of the U.S.-Mexico border will discharge considerably cleaner water for Imperial Beach and Coronado.
For years, a lack of adequate sewage infrastructure in the border region has posed a serious environmental and health threat to the communities of San Diego and Tijuana. This problem has gradually worsened over the years with the substantial growth of Tijuana’s population and industrial sector.
Large volumes of untreated wastewater still flow into the Tijuana River valley today and into the ocean just south of the border.
In July 1990 the U.S. and Mexico agreed to build an International Wastewater Treatment Plant (IWTP) on the U.S. side of the border as part of a regional solution. This facility is now treating sewage flows that exceed the capacity of the existing Tijuana sewage treatment system. In doing so, it plays a key role in restoring the environmental quality of the Tijuana River valley and safeguarding the health of border region residents.
The U.S. wastewater plant is run by the International Boundary and Water Commission, which operates sewage and flood control projects all along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The San Ysidro facility never met the “secondary treatment” standards in U.S. law until just recently. That’s partly because the commission couldn’t afford to complete all of the necessary infrastructure within its initial budget of $239 million.
For much of the past decade, treatment upgrades were on hold while a San Diego County company called Bajagua lobbied for a federal contract to build and operate a separate plant in Mexico. That effort fell apart in May 2008, when thanks to the advocacy work by the residents of Imperial Beach and Coronado, the city of Imperial Beach and WiLDCOAST, the U.S. government decided to upgrade the San Ysidro facility rather than build a new plant in Tijuana. That decision saved American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
On hand to celebrate the new treatment plant were Baja California Governor Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millan, International Boundary and Water Commissioner Commissioner Edward Drusina, CILA Commissioner Roberto Salmon, California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Linda Adams, WiLDCOAST’s Ben McCue and many other officials and community members. Two prominent IB surfers who attended the event included, Katy Fallon and Kristy Murphy.
I made a point of thanking officials from both the U.S. and Mexico, including Governor Osuna, on finally finishing the plant.
While much work remains to be done, it is important to recognize the substantial progress that has been made.
More progress will only come when IB and Coronado surfers continue to constructively lobby elected officials and agencies to allocate funding to systematically deal with binational water quality problems.
Since it is our coastline, we have to be the ones taking the lead on identifying problems and working with agencies to implement solutions.
That is the only way we can reclaim our beaches and our coast.
Ben McCue contributed to this article.