Submitted by Leon Benham
Editor’s Note November 18, 2019: The Surfrider Foundation submitted a written response to this Letter to the Editor and it can be found here.
Locals in Imperial Beach and Coronado may not be aware that the currently proposed plan that is called The TRV (Tijuana River Valley) Stakeholders Solution as proposed by The Surfrider Foundation, North American Development Bank (NAD), and supported by the Mayor of Imperial Beach and his non-profit corporation Wildcoast could result in the quadrupling of the amount of treated sewage being dumped off Imperial Beach from the current 25 million gallons a day (mgd) to more than 100 million gallons a day. Anywhere else in the United States, this sewage dump would be illegal and a direct violation of the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act of 1972 set the requirement that all rivers in the United States had to be swimmable and drinkable.
This plan relies on the same flawed methodology used when both Bob Filner (former San Diego Mayor) and Vice President Al Gore in July 1994 claimed to have delivered “a knockout blow to Tijuana Sewage in this river valley.” Here we sit twenty-five years later and it seems all we have done is to pay and process Mexico’s sewage free of charge. Ten years after the announcement by Al Gore and Bob Filner, the US taxpayer had paid $338 million to construct the IBWC sewage treatment plant which only processes Mexican sewage to the tune of 25 million gallons per day. This sewage is only treated to high primary treatment levels and then is dumped off Imperial Beach through the South Bay Ocean Outfall (SBOO). Currently, the US taxpayers spend nearly $14 million a year in operational costs to maintain that facility.
So after spending a total of $638 million of US taxpayers’ dollars on construction and maintenance over the last 25 years, we still have polluted ocean waters off Imperial Beach and Coronado. We also have a contaminated and dying US Wildlife Refuge with an 1800 acre county park located in the Tijuana River Valley which is has been severely compromised by trash, toxins and sewage.
Fortunately, over the last 25 years there are a few winners in this scheme. First and foremost is Mexico – which gets free sewage treatment at the expense of US taxpayers. Mexico gets to dump its sewage off the shores of the US communities of Imperial Beach and Coronado with no tangible repercussions. This water pollution also threatens the US Navy’s investment into the new SEAL Team training facility at the foot of the Silver Stand. While these servicemen represent the tip of the spear for the US military, Mexico seems to be able to put these best and brightest men and women of our military at serious risk without adverse consequences.
The second group of individuals who benefited from the dumping of Mexican sewage in US territorial waters are the Non-Governmental (NGO) environmental groups and the lawyers who are now suing the US government. They stand to potentially reap huge dollar settlements when these cases are brought before US courts. Also, coincidentally, since the 2004 agreement to dump 25 million gallons of untreated Mexican sewage off Imperial Beach these same (NGO) environmental groups have purchased and received thousands of acres of coastal land along the Mexican Baja coast. These two groups who have benefited over that last 25 years are set to benefit again if the Tijuana River Valley (TRV) Stakeholder Solution is approved.
Many Imperial Beach and Coronado citizens are not aware of the explosive rate of growth that is going on right across the border in Mexico and how that will affect the water quality off our coastline. There are 80,000 new homes planned for construction between Tecate and Tijuana. To put this in perspective, when the Eastlake development in Chula Vista was planned it only included 10,000 homes. This growth will create a higher level of sewage capacity. However Mexico is not building any new sewage treatment plants. Why? Based on the last 25 years of US border policy it makes sense that they believe they don’t have to. The same two groups cited above who benefit from the dumping of sewage, namely Mexico and the US-based NGO environmental organizations, are pushing for the United States congressional representatives to pay again for the sewage treatment of the 80,000 homes being built in Mexico. Currently the estimated cost to the US is $439 million and another $1.5 billion if the NAD Bank gets the monies they have requested from Congress. They have convinced our political leadership that this is the only way to solve this problem.
As reported in the Coronado Times on July 22, 2019, a group of US Congressional representatives announced1 the Tijuana River Valley Pollution Solution bill package. It seems that the current California congressional leadership is repeating the same mistakes made 25 years ago which is to pay for and process Tijuana’s sewage and then dump it in US territorial waters. This is a violation of the principles of the Clean Water Act.
Unfortunately for these congressional representatives they have failed to do their own research and investigate the history of the cross border sewage problem. With a quick one hour review of the facts they would quickly realize the flawed basis of design outlined by the North American Development Bank. This plan, if implemented, could increase the amount of sewage dumped off Imperial Beach, cost a prohibitive amount of US taxpayer money, our ocean water will still be polluted and we will be facing this same problem 20 years from now when Tijuana grows out of our capacity to process and pay for their sewage waste treatment. If allowed to proceed to construction, the partially treated, toxic sewage dumped off Imperial Beach and Coronado would continue to make the water quality worse for our communities.
Hopefully, these congressional representatives are smart people and if they would consider some additional facts raised by the Citizens for Coastal Conservancy, a recently formed Imperial Beach non-profit group, they would come to understand that the NAD plan is seriously flawed and there is a better permanent sustainable solution to cross border pollution flow.
If you would like to know more about this alternate plan, a presentation will be given at the Tijuana River Visitor Center located at 301 Caspian Way, Imperial Beach, CA 91932 on December 5, 2019 from 5:30pm to 7:30pm.
1 As reported in the Coronado times on July 22, 2019 Rep. Juan Vargas (CA-51) along with Reps. Susan Davis (CA-53), Scott Peters (CA-52), and Mike Levin (CA-49), hosted a press conference to announce the introduction of their Tijuana River Valley Pollution Solution bill package
Submitted by Leon Benham
Leon Benham is the executive director of the Citizens for Coastal Conservancy. He will be giving a presentation titled “The Future of Tijuana River – Water Quality Decisions for a Sustainable Tomorrow”. This presentation will consider the environmental problems we are facing along the United States/Mexico border in the Southern California area. This presentation is educational and if you ever wanted to learn about cross border pollution, ocean water quality and the latest sustainable solutions to solve the cross border sewage problem please attend this meeting.
Topics that will be consider are:
A deeper understanding of what problems are we facing in the TRV?
How do we clean up the river? What have we found that works?
How do we stop cross border flows right now?
What is state of the art in Water Treatment Technology?
C4CC plan for a sustainable maintenance of the Tijuana River Valley/Clean up our Surf line/Ocean?
What are the findings of State Bill 507 and how will this will affect along term water quality?
Leon Benham has been a resident of Imperial Beach since 1963 and over the past 30 years Mr. Benham has served as a Chief Estimator and Senior Project Manager on numerous environmental clean-up and restoration projects throughout California. His project resume includes the construction of a 9 acre environmental training facility at Mesa College including the restoration of fairy shrimp vernal pools, construction of 11 miles of County of San Diego public access trails in the Tijuana River Valley including the in mountaintop trails at Spooner’s Mesa, San Diego Bay Shore Bikeway, Bonita Plaza/Bay Shore bike path, Santee Lakes Pedestrian trials and he recently completed the installation of extraction wells to clean up a ground water aquifer that had been contaminated by a petroleum spill near Campo.
Submitted by Leon Benham