Officials to use $300M from feds to stem Tijuana pollution flows

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CHULA VISTA, Calif. — Local elected representatives Friday discussed $300 million in federal funding from the newly signed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and its potential impact on water pollution and cleanup in the Tijuana River Valley.

Reps. Mike Levin, D-Oceanside, Susan Davis, D-San Diego, Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, Scott Peters, D-San Diego, Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer all spoke at a news conference at Chula Vista’s Bayside Park.

“I’m proud to announce once again that we have successfully secured $300 million under the Border Water Infrastructure Program to aggressively address the cross-border pollution from the Tijuana River Valley,” Levin said. “This historic achievement is an example of how Democrats and Republicans can work together to solve even the most challenging local and regional issues.”

Over four years, that money will fortify water treatment facilities in the valley, namely the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant. In December, Congress passed a $1.4 trillion federal spending deal that includes $25 million for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Border Water Infrastructure Program, $10 million more than the last year’s allocation.

“San Diego’s economy is built for 21st century trade, and now the United States is as well, with the signing of the new USMCA,” Faulconer said. “The future is bright for the thousands of local families and businesses whose economic opportunities grow every time we trade with Mexico and Canada. The San Diego region gets two historic wins for the price of one now that a fix for the environmental crisis at the Tijuana River Valley is linked to the USMCA agreement.”

Transborder pollution from the Tijuana River has contaminated waters and coastlines for decades, forcing San Diego County environmental health officials 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.

“San Diego cannot truly be “America’s Finest City” if our beaches are closed much of the time, Davis said. “This is a very promising day for our community. We are a step closer to making beach closures a thing of the past.”

In April 2019, Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, D-California, submitted a jointly written letter to multiple federal agencies requesting they address sewage runoff in the river.

“Communities in my district are the most affected by transboundary sewage flows,” Vargas said. “This is why I’m proud that we negotiated and secured funding in the USMCA implementing legislation to combat this issue. Funding border water infrastructure is an important part of mitigating the overall cross-border pollution problem.”

In July 2019, Reps. Peters, Vargas and Levin introduced legislation to increase funding for Tijuana River cleanup efforts and prevention of future pollution. And in September, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual delegation of local officials and business leaders discussed the issue with cabinet officials and members of Congress.

“Now, more than ever, it is critical that we fast-track those funds and build the infrastructure immediately so we can stop the plague of sewage that is ruining ocean water quality and severely impacting public health in south San Diego,” Dedina said.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement replaces the North American Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect in 1994 and is blamed by some politicians on both sides of the aisle for hastening outsourcing and the decline of the country’s manufacturing industries. Congressional Democrats have held up the deal in the House until coming to an agreement with the White House to strengthen its labor and environmental standards.

Local business leaders and elected officials have sung the deal’s praises for months, arguing that inter-border commerce is too vital to the San Diego region to sever trade relations between the U.S. and Mexico.

According to the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, trade between Mexico and San Diego has fostered a $2.5 billion supply chain and more than 100,000 jobs. Annual trade between California and Mexico is valued at roughly $73 billion.

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