Tijuana Sewage Solutions: Ecoparque

One of the great fallacies about dealing with untreated wastewater is that solutions require huge government investments in giant and expensive centralized sewage treatment plants. But not only is this not a solution in the cities of the developing world (because those plants can’t treat sewage for people who aren’t hooked up to the sewage line), but when those plants break down, there are major problems with sewage spills and then polluted waterways and beaches.

Tijuana has historically been unable to deal with its high volume of wastewater due to its rapid growth and difficult terrain. Tijuana has relied on the U.S. for must of its  wastewater treatment infrastructure. In the past 20-30 years Tijuana has built a series of small-scale treatment plants.

In the late 1980s, a group of conservationists in Mexico and the U.S. developed a small-scale decentralized project, Ecoparque, in eastern Tijuana that was designed to treat wastewater and reuse it for gardens, compost and even wetlands. The project was built and treats sewage from a nearby neighborhood, but because of the inability of agencies to think outside the box beyond giant projects, more Ecoparques were not built.

I recently toured the Ecoparque facility in Tijuana. It is being upgraded and expanded by COLEF in Tijuana and has the potential to serve as a great model for other low-cost and simple wastewater treatment projects that can provide much needed water for community gardens, wetlands, native plant restoration projects, and native plant nurseries. Additionally it can provide low-cost compost for all of these activities. Back in 1987 or 1988 I volunteered for a day on the construction of Ecoparque. I had also volunteered for the construction of the first module that was tested in the Tijuana River Valley on the U.S. side.

At the end of the day, the current model of mid to large treatment plants is not a solution. They are too expensive and too centralized. Projects like Ecoparque should be the future. After all, not a single drop of wastewater, especially in our climate and with this drought, should ever reach the ocean.


The primary sewage treatment module at Ecoparque. Sewage gravity flows from an uphill neighborhood.


Future wetlands.


A cool design for a future plant nursery.


Native plant garden.


Vermiculture facility.


Creating compost.


The Ocean Health Index and Cleaning up Our Coast

Paloma Aguirre and Diana Castaneda of WiLDCOAST at a recent Tijuana River Valley cleanup.

Last Friday I missed the first real north swell of the season to attend a meeting organized by the University of California-Santa Barbara on the development of an ocean health index.

The objective of the index is to have a monitoring scorecard that communities, scientists and government agencies can use to determine coastal and ocean health locally, regionally and nationally.

The group included fishermen, seafood harvesters (e.g. shellfish and seaweed), elected officials, energy company representatives, conservationists, scientists and the Chief of State of the Makah tribe.

Community members working together for clean water in the Tijuana River Valley.

Everyone in the room, especially the fishermen, made it clear that ocean water quality and biodiversity were the two most important indicators for managing the health of the coast and ocean.

The consensus was that without clean water and healthy marine life, it’s almost impossible to have a vibrant tourism and fishing economy.

Meanwhile many local leaders have spent the last decade in denial about ocean pollution.

They fear that discussing the issue will somehow negatively impact the economy and local property values.

The bay side of Silver Strand State Beach in Coronado was recently shut down due to a sewage spill from the Sept. 8 mass outage.

A cleanup kid.

In 2011 the main beach in Imperial Beach has been closed 56 days. The south end of the beach was closed 224 days.

In 2010 the main beach was closed 26 days. The south end of the beach was closed 226 days (and yes the south end of the beach is still Imperial Beach).

Meanwhile most south swell pollution goes unreported.

Today we continue to work with local residents on both sides of the border to clean up the tons and tons of garbage that wash into the ocean.

Last January WiLDOCAST notified authorities about a sewage spill in Playas de Tijuana that went unchecked for more than three weeks, resulting in more than 31 million gallons of sewage discharged into the surf zone in Imperial Beach and the border area.

Together with local, state and federal agencies on both sides of the border, our collaborative work has resulted in significant achievements.

These include the recent inauguration of a new international sewage treatment plant; the opening of three new sewage plants in Tijuana-Rosarito; progress on stopping the frequent discharges at Playas de Tijuana; and the cleaning up of thousands of waste tires and hundreds of tons of trash in the Tijuana River Valley by community members.

I invite everyone to join to help to clean up our region and make sure that our coast and ocean is as pristine as possible. Because even one day of beach pollution is one day too many.

There are plenty of opportunities to do so in October with Tijuana River Action Month. The next event will be held Oct. 1.

A small fence separates densely populated Tiju...

The U.S.-Mexico border near the TJ River Valley. Image via Wikipedia

%d bloggers like this: