The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed dedicating its entire $300 million budget for infrastructure projects along the U.S.-Mexico Border to combat sewage pollution in the Tijuana River Valley.
United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) was modified in Dec. 2019 to include millions in funds for the Border Water Infrastructure Program (BWIP).
Local Congressional leaders said Tuesday the full $300 million had been secured for projects in the San Diego region.
“It was unclear when we first got USMCA approved how much would be coming to the region," Mayor Kevin Faulconer said at his daily afternoon press briefing. "Today we received word that the entire $300 million will be appropriated to our region.”
The fund will go toward engineering, planning, design, and construction for sewage treatment infrastructure at the border, according to Faulconer. The funding still requires full congressional approval.
"San Diegans have suffered too long from the regular flow of raw sewage into our country from Mexico. With the full $300 million, the EPA can now lead a comprehensive and coordinated effort with the local community to build much-needed wastewater infrastructure for the region," a joint statement read from Reps. Susan Davis, Mike Levin, Scott Peters and Juan Vargas and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris.
An additional $25 million was secured for the EPA’s Border Water Infrastructure Improvement Program.
Rep. Peters said the priority project for this funding is the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is currently operated by the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC).
The Tijuana River Estuary and shorelines from Imperial Beach to Coronado are often closed to the public after spills on the Mexican side of the border cross into the U.S. via the Tijuana River, especially following heavy rainfall.
Polluted runoff likely comes from a Tijuana sewage treatment plant in need of upgrades that could cost up to $370 million, a study by Mexican officials found.
In 2018, local governments in the San Diego area sued the International Boundary and Water Commission's U.S. section over the spills. The suit alleges millions of gallons of waste, including untreated sewage, trash, pesticides and heavy metals have been discharged from the IBWC's treatment facilities in violation of the Clean Water Act.
In their motion to dismiss the lawsuit, government attorneys argued that the IBWC is not responsible for the millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage that flow into the Pacific Ocean from the Tijuana area, claiming the IBWC “has not violated any environmental law, and, in fact, has done nothing to worsen cross-border pollution. Rather, by constructing and operating a treatment plant in San Diego… IBWC has greatly reduced the problem’s scale.”
The government also argued that the IBWC does not have “an open-ended legal obligation to capture and treat all transboundary flows,” and for that and other reasons the lawsuit should be dismissed.
This February, the Government Accountability Office released a report that said the IBWC has not taken the steps necessary to combat the problem and recommended that Congress direct the agency to find solutions to address sewage infrastructure failures.