West Coast
Signs from the County of San Diego Environmental Health & Quality warn those at Imperial Beach of sewage/chemical contaminated water and to keep out of the water in May. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

CA - Amid new spills and stink, U.S. senators request millions more to fix Tijuana sewage crisis

California Senators Padilla and Feinstein are asking Congress to double federal funding to make urgent repairs to the failing treatment plant in South County

California’s Senators are urging Congress for $310 million in new emergency spending to fix the rampant sewage pollution that repeatedly flows from Tijuana to San Diego’s South County shoreline.

On Tuesday, Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein called on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Patty Murray, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to include the funds in the upcoming emergency supplemental bill that is already proposing billions for other disaster relief.

The Biden administration has requested $40 billion in emergency funding, which includes $24 billion in aid for Ukraine, $12 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s depleting fund as it responds to disasters like Maui’s wildfires, and $4 billion to address border issues, such as shelter and services for migrants.

In their letter, the Senators said more money to tackle the sewage crisis must be added to that list because it is “fouling California beaches, degrading U.S. Navy readiness, and harming the health of Customs and Border Protection agents, U.S. Coast Guardsmen, and millions of Americans in Southern California.”

An additional $310 million would supplement the $300 million in federal money elected leaders and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency previously secured to double the capacity of the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plan in San Diego.

The funds would bring efforts closer to covering a $630-million plan federal environmental regulators in California said would help fix the issue. The strategy, in part, involves installing a pumping system in the Tijuana River to prevent contaminated flows from fouling shorelines as far north as Coronado.

Water from Tijuana has long been sent to the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant or pumped into the Pacific Ocean from Mexico. But Tijuana’s faulty system is constantly overwhelmed as its population rises, sending millions of gallons of raw sewage and trash through the river valley.

Mexico also has a broken wastewater facility in Punta Bandera, about six miles south of the border, which releases more than 30 million gallons of sewage per day into the sea, causing beach closures all along South County. Major upgrades to the San Antonio de Los Buenos treatment plant are expected to kick off this year.

Meanwhile, the hundreds of millions of dollars previously set aside could easily just go toward repairs. The plant will likely need as much as $150 million for maintenance before it can expand.

“This is so frustrating,” said Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre, whose small coastal city has had its shoreline closed since December 2021. “So I think that’s great that (the senators) are highlighting the very glaring absence of (funding for this issue) as (the supplemental funding) currently stands.”

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