Federal help on the way for cross-border sewage crisis in San Diego County

More than 250 people were demanding action on the cross-border sewage crisis in Coronado when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the federal government is committing to help

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After many years of fighting, southern San Diego communities are getting good news about the future of sewage spills in the Tijuana River Valley.

Gov. Gavin Newsom says federal help is on its way. The announcement came in the middle of a protest at Coronado Central Beach, where more than 250 demonstrators were demanding action.

“We cannot stop. We cannot put our heads down, bow down and compromise," one protestor said.

They were angry because miles of beaches, including many popular Labor Day weekend destinations, are closed.

“This is a public health crisis. That’s right. It is a public health crisis. We just have to say it," another demonstrator said.

Two weeks ago, during Tropical Storm Hilary, 7 billion gallons of contaminated water flowed from the Tijuana River Valley every day.

“This is not a new problem. It's getting worse with the pollution and the increased number of people in TJ, and they haven’t done anything with the infrastructure,“ demonstrator Cheryl Wilson said.

A boil water advisory was issued for two days after E.coli contaminants were found in the water supply, affecting more than 100,000 people.

Some beaches have been closed for more than 100 days already this year.

On Monday, 20,000 gallons of sewage spilled onto Hollister Street after a South Bay pumping station failed.

“Save the beach, stop the sewage. It's tragic we can’t swim my local beach,” demonstrator Alberto Hurtado said.

This Labor Day, around 12 miles of beaches are closed due to high levels of bacteria in the water.

“Twelve miles of beaches in San Diego County closed. It would be like having every beach from OB to Torrey pines closed,” former Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina said.

At the start of the demonstration, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the federal government is transferring approximately $350 million that has been appropriated for work on this project. Additionally, the EPA is signing contracts for the rehabilitation and expansion of the wastewater treatment plant in San Ysidro and other associated projects.

Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey says it will take double that investment but that the commitment is extraordinary.

“By the EPA now entering into these contracts, it kind of accomplishes both objectives. It gives contractors the confidence they need to move forward, and it gets Congress on the hook for appropriating these funds in the future,“ Bailey said.

Before they left, the crowd, not entirely ready to trust the federal government, collectively formed the international sign for distress, SOS, in the sand.

The Mexican government expects to solicit a contract to build a new wastewater treatment plant, which will reduce the amount of untreated sewage into the ocean.

In November, Mexico will finish repairing a major wastewater pipeline near the border that will also help reduce contamination in the water.

NBC 7's Kelvin Henry spoke to a professor who explains how sewage leaks contaminating water in southern San Diego County can impact the region in the long term.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Gov. Newsom had pledged an additional $350 million on top of $350 million that was already earmarked for the project.

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