On behalf of the full City Council, Mayor Richard Bailey will attend a meeting today of top environmental officials from the United States, Mexico and Canada to seek help in resolving the cross-border sewage issue that plagues San Diego.
The City of Coronado has been working with local, state and federal officials to get infrastructure in place on both sides of the border to eliminate sewage flows that pollute beaches in San Diego County. The effort in Oklahoma involves meeting with U.S. officials to urge funding for infrastructure projects. Coronado’s efforts complement those by neighboring cities and the Port of San Diego, who are suing the federal government, as well as efforts by county officials.
“We thank our leaders for their support in working to stop these horrible spills that pollute local beaches,” Bailey said. “To keep the ball rolling, I am attending a session of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation in Oklahoma on June 26 and 27 to help us make this issue a priority.”
Since January, the City has actively reached out to its representatives in Congress and with those who represent the entire southern U.S. border to come up with a strategy to provide needed infrastructure on both sides of the border. The City, with help from its lobbyist in Washington, D.C., is working to get the International Boundary and Water Commission to install infrastructure on this side of the border to stop the sewage flows during wet weather. The International Boundary and Water Commission is but one of the many federal agencies involved.
Last month, City leaders met with representatives from the EPA and with federal officials in Washington, D.C. Earlier this spring, the City worked closely with the offices of Rep. Scott Peters and Rep. Susan Davis, who helped get language in the Department of Defense’s annual budget directing the Navy to investigate whether spills from the Tijuana River have significant impacts on its operations. Rep. Joe Wilson from South Carolina helped escort the matter through the Armed Services Committee and the House of Representatives.
Mayor Bailey, Coronado Councilman Whitney Benzian, San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox and City staff recently met in Coronado with Kenneth Wagner, a senior advisor for regional and state affairs for the EPA, to discuss efforts to put together a coalition to provide the infrastructure to attack the problem. Mike Stoker, the EPA’s Region 9 director, was in Coronado this month and reaffirmed his support for solving the cross-border issue. Stoker has since listed his top priorities for the region, and he continues to include the border pollution issue as a top priority.
The City’s ultimate goal is for the International Boundary and Water Commission, or another responsible federal agency, to install and operate basins in the Tijuana River Valley that would capture and divert flows to an area treatment plant.
“We know this will not solve the problem 100 percent, but it will improve the situation and it is something that we can control,” Bailey said. “Our major challenge is finding a lead agency. No one has been willing to take ownership of this issue.”
Bailey added that without that lead agency, there is no one to apply for grants or receive funds to build the infrastructure. He said while the International Boundary and Water Commission appears to be the most appropriate agency, it does not mean that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA, the County of San Diego or the City could not take the role.
The City has been in contact in recent months with its counterparts in Nogales, Arizona, and along the Texas border with Mexico, who face similar challenges with pollution from Mexico and limited action from the IBWC. However, the City also seeks additional support from other senators and elected leaders from around the country. The City has asked EPA officials about the various programs that are available for financing local projects. The City also has reached out to legislators in Sacramento, such as Assemblyman Todd Gloria, who is not only interested in a solution but who is willing to direct funds to a U.S.-based solution.
Longer term, the City is working toward getting infrastructure improvements in Mexico that will stem sewage flows at their source. To that end, the City will continue to work with the State Department, the office of the United States Trade Representative, the EPA’s local Congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., and the North American Development Bank about finding ways to get money to Tijuana for its $300 million sewer system upgrade to capture sewage for treatment. In Congress, the City is asking members to support additional funds for the Border Environment Infrastructure Fund, which provides small amounts of funding for Tijuana, most recently, $1.2 million for some pump upgrades and for the continued support for Tijuana.
In Oklahoma, Mayor Bailey plans to speak to the City’s strategy of engagement in searching for all solutions to the ongoing sewage problem, and to put together a coalition of agencies to provide the needed investment and infrastructure.
Source: City of Coronado