Foundation sends thousands of letters calling for Tijuana River clean-up

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SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego chapter of the Surfrider Foundation announced Tuesday that it sent more than 2,200 letters from county residents to federal, state and local leaders calling for the prioritization of addressing toxic waste and pollution in the Tijuana River and coastal waters in south county.

The organization said it sent letters to, among other people, President Donald Trump, Gov. Gavin Newsom, senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of International and Tribal Affairs Assistant Administrator William Charles "Chad" McIntosh, the county Board of Supervisors and the entirety of San Diego County's congressional delegation.

The letters include a call to clean up contaminated water in the Tijuana River and near the U.S.-Mexico border that has resulted in closures of the Tijuana Slough and Imperial Beach shorelines for 190 days and 50 days, respectively, so far this year. Those numbers are likely to increase as rainfall later in the year typically exacerbates any contamination.

The organization and the letters also call on the federal government to include Clean Water Act provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a replacement trade deal for the North American Free Trade Agreement that went into effect in 1994.

"During the month of September there have been four transboundary flow reports issued by the International Boundary and Water Commission, totaling about 120 million gallons of treated and untreated wastewater that funneled into the Tijuana River and into the Pacific Ocean," the organization said in a statement.

Transborder pollution from the Tijuana River has contaminated U.S. waters and coastlines for decades, forcing the county to regularly close beach access near the border. During that time, local and state officials and environmental activists have called for federal assistance to protect the health of the environment and residents near the border.

In July, Reps. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego; Scott Peters, D-San Diego; and Mike Levin, D-Oceanside, introduced legislation to increase funding for Tijuana River clean-up efforts and prevention of future pollution. In April, Harris and Feinstein submitted a jointly written letter to multiple federal agencies requesting they address sewage runoff in the river.

Surfrider and the city of San Diego have also filed lawsuits against the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, which oversees waterways that traverse the border. The lawsuits argue that the UBWC has neglected pollution in the river and its effect on the environment.

"Now is the time to continue to elevate this dire issue," said Bethany Case, co-lead of the organization's Clean Border Water Now campaign. "We need the support of our highest levels of government."

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