The U.S. government will spend a whopping $630 million to stop the constant flow of toxic waste and raw sewage that has long gushed into southern California from Mexico. The plan is to install a system in the Tijuana River to pump the waste before it reaches the shores of San Diego, according to a plan released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The costly project is scheduled to begin by 2023 and the agency has already secured $300 million from American taxpayers, though it will require an additional $330 million to complete the job. “In the Tijuana River Valley and neighboring coastal areas, contaminated flows from Mexico enter the U.S. and create significant negative impacts to water quality, public health, and the environment,” the EPA river watershed blueprint states.
This has been going on for years and the U.S. has spent tens of millions of dollars trying to clean up the mess though it has barely put a dent on controlling the damage. The government refers to it as transboundary flow and it contains a combination of treated wastewater, untreated wastewater, and stormwater. Around 50 million gallons of mostly raw sewage flows into the Pacific Ocean from the San Antonio de los Buenos Creek in Tijuana, Mexico not far from the California border. “Northward currents carry the discharge up the coast to the U.S. causing marine transboundary flows,” the EPA writes in its draft. During wet-weather events an average of 109 million gallons per day flow into the Pacific Ocean via the Tijuana River. The contaminated water includes raw sewage, trash from Tijuana’s famously polluted urban area and eroded soil from the canyons and upstream of the Tijuana River.
The constant stream of pollutants has taken a huge toll, including negatively impacting public health and beach water quality as well as threats to wildlife and U.S. government activities. The untreated wastewater contains harmful pathogens that pose risks to human health, the EPA writes. Sediment, trash, and polluted wastewater hurts aquatic and terrestrial wildlife and degrades the marine and estuarian habitats that wildlife relies on to thrive. Additionally, the pollution is making U.S. Military and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel quite sick. Last year a national news outlet visited the region and published a troubling piece that includes a detailed list of the contaminants in the Tijuana River water; “fecal coliforms, drug-resistant bacteria, benzene, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium medical waste, and DDT, which has been banned for years in the United States.” It is not just a health concern and an eyesore, the report points out. It is also hindering the Border Patrol’s main mission.
A Mexican government official who helps direct the country’s water agency (Comisión Nacional del Agua) said in the EPA’s announcement this week that the project will “significantly improve the quality of water” in the Tijuana River and “on the beaches of both countries.” While the U.S. doles out the big bucks, Mexico’s financial commitment is vague with the water bureau official, Humberto Marengo Mogollon, declaring that his agency will “provide its support” for the sanitation projects on the Mexican side “in accordance with the budget allocated to it.” A multitude of American state and federal lawmakers also had their say this week, including 88-year-old California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, the nation’s oldest U.S. Senator. “Communities along California’s southern border have been plagued with toxic pollution from Mexico for too long,” she said in the EPA announcement. A congressman, Democrat Scott Peters, who represents San Diego in the U.S. House said; “this decades-long problem is an environmental and public health catastrophe that endangers lives on both sides of our border, from the waters of Baja California to my district in Coronado.”
Indeed, Mexico’s trash has been seeping into the U.S. for decades and the government has quietly spent large sums of taxpayer dollars trying to clean it up. Nearly a decade and a half ago, Judicial Watch reported that the president’s proposed budget included nearly $72 million to rid U.S. beaches of the Mexican sewage that for decades infested them. At the time the allocation went public, the government already had a contract with a company to do the work because pollution caused by the raw sewage frequently closed beaches and damaged wildlife on the U.S. side of the border.