As the Tijuana River sewage crisis worsens, local leaders and community organizations in San Diego and beyond have pleaded with Gov. Gavin Newsom to intervene. The governor has so far deferred to the White House and Congress, leaving dozens of communities powerless to the whims of federal lawmakers.
“If I had the chance to say something to Governor (Gavin) Newsom about the pollution in the Tijuana River Valley, I would tell him to fix it as soon as possible because the smell is horrible, and I don’t know what else. it harms our health. As my partner says, if this happened to the rich people of La Jolla, it would have been taken care of a long time ago.
That’s what Analisa Corrales, a nine-year resident of San Diego’s Nestor neighborhood, told me when I asked her what she thought of the pollution of the Tijuana River Valley and how aerosolized contaminants could affect the health of her and her three children. They are 12 years old, 7 years old and 6 months old and live less than 3 km from the sewage-clogged river.
“My son constantly suffers from allergies and stomach aches. My 7-year-old also has allergies,” Corrales said. “I’m sure it has something to do with the air we breathe and I’m worried about my baby’s health.”
The stench is so unbearable that she keeps her windows closed most of the time. Corrales purchased three large air purifiers for her modest apartment because she was concerned about breathing in dangerous particles.
Corrales is not alone. Several San Diego area state legislatorsTHE the entire San Diego County Board of Supervisors And more than three dozen community organizations all share his concerns about pollution and have urged Newsom to declare a state of emergency over the worsening wastewater crisis. Even cities as far north as Peaceful And Santa Cruz call on Newsom to do more.
An emergency declaration would secure more funding, resources and political will to “resolve the problem as quickly as possible,” as Corrales argued. This could help repair the broken and overwhelmed South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is facing deferred maintenance costs of 150 million dollars. The price to pay to completely repair the factory could reach around $900 million.
Eighteen mayors of San Diego County signed a letter to Newsom in September, expressing “deep concern and growing disappointment regarding the state’s lack of effective leadership to address the ongoing pollution disaster in the Tijuana River.” They asked the governor to declare a state of emergency and work with the Biden administration to help resolve what has become a public health crisis.
But Newsom says he doesn’t have the authority to issue an emergency declaration because, as his administration sees it, problems arise within the jurisdiction of the federal government. In a letter to the California Coastal Commission, which last week called on the federal government to interveneNewsom emphasized his support for President Biden’s $310 million in an emergency supplemental bill last month.
Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre, who is also the San Diego Coast representative on the Coastal Commission, has spearheaded advocacy to address this crisis. In an interview, she expressed appreciation for Newsom’s support for additional funding for the sewage plant, praising the $310 million, but “unfortunately for those who live and work in Imperial Beach, we know it’s not not enough. “It’s an uphill battle because it depends on congressional approval.”
Meanwhile, sewage contaminating the Tijuana River forced the closure of local beaches for more than 700 consecutive days.
How bad is it? The Border Patrol union sued the federal government in 2004 for exposure to “raw human sewage, massive coliform contamination and other toxic chemicals” and won a case. $15 million payment. One of the accommodations in the settlement agreement was not disciplining Border Patrol agents who refused to go into the Tijuana River if they were pursuing someone. Officers were also encouraged to get vaccinated against hepatitis A.
In 2010, a Border Patrol agent contracted a carnivorous bacteria he attributed training on the polluted Silver Strand beach. This ended his police career.
Concerns about pollution of the Tijuana River have existed for decades, as the border city’s population grew without adequate infrastructure and industrial waste from unmonitored businesses ended up polluting local waterways that feed the river .
The International Boundary and Water Commission, the binational agency that enforces water treaties between the United States and Mexico, among other roles, reported that more than 100 billion gallons of untreated sewage have flowed into the Pacific Ocean through the Tijuana River and its tributaries over the past five years.
Heavy metals, bacteria and fecal matter are part of the toxic stew that has led California Rangers to close Border Field State Park every time there is even light precipitation because stagnant water remains for months on the main trails and roads leading to the beach. The park was closed indefinitely “due to damage caused by Hurricane Hillary and cross-border flows related to the failure of wastewater treatment plant infrastructure at the border. »
In March, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography published a report detailing how sea spray carries dangerous bacteria and chemical compounds inland through tiny aerosolized particles. The marine layer arrives in the evening, and even where I live in Chula Vista – about eight miles northeast of the Tijuana River valley – some evenings the putrid smell is overwhelming.
“This affects more than 750,000 people. Three-quarters of a million Californians are breathing raw sewage,” Aguirre told me, referring to residents in the cities of Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, National City and the southern neighborhoods of San Diego.
On weekends, Corrales, a mother of three in San Diego, takes her young family to the East County area, where her mother lives. Until millions of dollars in emergency funds and resources receive Congressional approval to repair and expand existing water treatment infrastructure, this is the only relief it may have to escape to toxic air that could cause long-term harm to his family.