SAN DIEGO — San Diego congressional leaders are upping the pressure on officials to declare the ongoing sewage spill from Tijuana into the region’s southernmost beaches a federal state of emergency with a new amendment introduced Friday.
Rep. Scott Peters introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act — an appropriations bill for the military, including construction — that would call on federal officials to declare the wastewater contamination a federal emergency.
The resolution, co-sponsored by Representatives Sara Jacobs and Juan Vargas, would also codify the federal government’s commitment to abide by a 2022 agreement with Mexico — known as Minute 328 — to reduce wastewater contamination through infrastructure projects on both sides of the border.
In a press release, Peters’ office said the resolution was introduced as an amendment to the defense appropriation act because of “the dangerous bacterial contamination to waters used by special operations forces including Navy SEALs which poses a threat to their health and limits their ability to train.”
“San Diegans, particularly the people we represent in south San Diego and Coronado, have been harmed by the pollution from the Tijuana River Valley for too, too long,” Peters said in the release. “People are sickened, law enforcement can’t do their jobs, businesses are suffering, our oceans are badly polluted, and our Special Forces are training in ocean water that is filled with bacteria. This has to stop and only the federal government can make it happen.”
Announced in August of last year, Minute 328 outlined sanitation projects to be constructed in San Diego and Tijuana using $330 million from the U.S. government and $144 million from the Mexican government.
On the U.S. side, funds from the agreement would go towards doubling the capacity at the South Bay Treatment plant from 25 to 50 million gallons per day.
The projects, which are expected to be completed and operational by the end of 2027, would result in a 50% reduction in the number of days of transboundary wastewater flow in the Tijuana River and an 80% cut in the amount of untreated sewage discharged into the ocean, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“A federal emergency declaration would allow government agencies to coordinate more easily, give us quicker access to funds, and expedite construction timelines that could help abate this disaster,” Peters said.
The announcement of the new resolution comes days after the San Diego Congressional delegation, led by Vargas, sent a letter to President Biden calling on his administration to declare the crisis a federal emergency.
“It is paramount that we continue to take all actions possible to reduce harmful pollutants and ensure the health and safety of communities on both sides of the border,” Vargas said in the release from Peters’ office. “The situation at the Tijuana River Valley is a public health emergency, and it must be treated as one. This includes using any and all resources available to address this crisis.”
The letter accompanies local crisis proclamations from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, as well as the cities of Imperial Beach and San Diego.
Contamination from sewage in the Tijuana River Valley has been a problem in San Diego County for decades, befouling the waters of area beaches for hundreds of days a year since 2010.
However, the problem has seemingly become more acute, with bacteria from the untreated sewage being tracked as far north as Coronado. Meanwhile, yellow warning signs have closed off Imperial Beach’s waters for over 550 consecutive days.
“San Diego is in the middle of another summer marked by beach closures, shuttered small businesses, and worsened health due to the sewage flowing through the Tijuana River Valley and up our coastline,” Jacobs said in the recent release. “I’m glad to join our San Diego congressional delegation to urge President Biden to declare a federal emergency and open every avenue of resources possible to give this crisis the national attention and resources it so badly needs.”