Tijuana River Valley Pollution

United by the international border, San Diego shares a watershed with Tijuana. As a result, any sewage flows from Tijuana’s tightly packed neighborhoods that are not captured and sent for treatment risk ending up downstream on the beaches of southern San Diego County. Rain places additional pressure on Tijuana’s subterranean network of sewage pipes, many of which are in need of replacement. Mexican officials have said that upgrading the sewage treatment plant – the likely source of the pollution – is a top priority but would cost at least $372 million.

Concrete solutions have now been outlined in multiple studies, identifying infrastructure projects related to wastewater treatment, pollution, and water conservation that will help mitigate pollution and reduce transboundary flows. The North American Development Bank (NADBank) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the Tijuana River Diversion Study, which evaluates infrastructure projects on both sides of the border that would help mitigate pollution based on their contribution to reduce transboundary spills and beach closures. In addition, thanks to funds secured through SB-507 authored by Senator Hueso, the County of San Diego released the Tijuana River Valley Needs and Opportunities Assessment with a comprehensive review of potential management strategies in the U.S. Together, these studies have identified and evaluated over 28 infrastructure projects estimated to cost $215 million, with additional investment needed for the operation and maintenance of up to $32.4 million per year.

In May 2020, the EPA announced the allocation of the full $300 million appropriated in the USMCA Implementation Act to address transboundary pollution impacting the Tijuana River Valley. Funds will be used for the design, plan, engineering, and construction of wastewater infrastructure at the border. By August 2020, Representatives Juan Vargas, Susan Davis, Scott Peters, Mike Levin, and Raul Ruiz introduced the Border Water Quality Restoration and Protection Act of 2020, a House companion bill to legislation Senator Dianne Feinstein had previously introduced. Both bills designate the EPA as the lead agency to coordinate all federal, state, local, and Mexican agencies to plan and construct infrastructure projects to mitigate pollution across the U.S.-México border and help improve the water quality of the Tijuana River and New River.

On the Mexican side of the border, the Mexican section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (CILA) signed a collaboration agreement with Tijuana’s Public Utilities Commission (CESPT) to address transboundary polluted flows. In 2020, CILA received $83.9 million pesos (about $4.1 million USD) from Mexico’s National Water Commission (CONAGUA) to address transboundary pollution impacting the Tijuana River Valley. The agency installed new pumps in Tijuana and began its rehabilitation and maintenance of Pump Station CILA. CILA also announced a bid for the administration and quality control of the rehabilitation of Pump Station CILA in the city of Tijuana. The project includes supervision and quality control of the acquisition and installation of pumps, pipes, and electric equipment, and the construction of pre-treatment grids and new water intake from the channel. A contract was awarded in the fall to a regional company.

At the state level, Baja’s Secretariat of Water Management, Sanitation, and Protection (SEPROA) completed a 60-day project that removed over 300,000 cubic meters of sediment and solid waste along the Tijuana River channel in the summer of 2020. The project’s cost was about $4.5 million and was funded in equal parts by CESPT and CONAGUA. These efforts, along with infrastructure upgrades conducted by CILA and CESPT, are estimated to reduce the volume of northbound transboundary flows during the dry season by 70 percent.

The Chamber continues to advocate for efforts and plans that help mitigate the pollution and minimize/eliminate water deficits to the U.S. To fulfill that goal, the Chamber participates as a member of a binational core working group that meets periodically to provide advice, advance measurable projects, and advocate for funding. Furthermore, other efforts include submitting letters to Congress advocating for different funding opportunities and meeting with officials in person to discuss and develop a plan for this issue. The Chamber also organizes annual delegation trips to Washington, D.C. and Mexico City which have been successful in advancing effective solutions to substantially improve the Tijuana River Valley pollution.