Coronado’s Diplomatic Effort Helps Secure $300 Million for Tijuana Sewage Issue

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Submitted by Mayor Richard Bailey and Councilmember Whitney Benzian


On behalf of the entire City Council, we are pleased to share the announcement of $300 million in federal funding to address the Tijuana sewage issue.

The story of how we arrived on a clear path to a successful outcome was truly a regional and bipartisan effort that Coronado played an instrumental role in achieving.

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In 2017, after weighing the merits of various legal and diplomatic strategic options, the Coronado City Council unanimously approved pursuing a diplomatic approach to address the issue that plagued the beaches of Imperial Beach and southern Coronado for decades.

Almost immediately, initial meetings in Washington DC produced several allies in the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Trade Representative, that would prove invaluable as the process unfolded through 2020. As the EPA began to formally study the issue and identify solutions, Coronado worked with San Diego County as well as the Cities of San Diego and Imperial Beach, to build community support and let our Congressional delegation know that this was a priority for our entire region. We also found allies at the White House concerned about how the environmental disaster was affecting the men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol as well as our military preparedness.

As the EPA continued to research the issue, we worked to broaden our call for action beyond the San Diego region. The Cities of Coronado, San Diego, and Imperial Beach teamed up to pass a resolution in support of addressing the issue at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Coronado Councilmember Marvin Heinze was active in guiding a similar resolution through the National League of Cities. Meanwhile, County Supervisor Greg Cox secured a resolution from the National Association of Counties. These efforts gave the issue national prominence as it became part of the legislation agendas of three organizations representing cities and counties from across the entire nation.

In mid-2019, the EPA completed their initial study and identified potential solutions to reduce the number of transboundary sewage flow days from 138 annually to just 12 days. Our regional coalition then came together and championed this package of projects, estimated to cost $400 million, to our San Diego Congressional delegation through formal resolutions passed by each local agency.

The right opportunity to secure several hundred million dollars of federal funding doesn’t just occur every day. Fortunately for us, the USMCA, a trade deal between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, was making its way through final negotiations. Unlike NAFTA, a similar 1994 trade agreement, environmental considerations played a major role in the USMCA. As the new trade agreement took shape, our San Diego Congressional delegation raised the sewage issue as one that should be addressed as part of this deal.

In December 2019, we grew increasingly optimistic as we learned funding would be part of the agreement. However, we weren’t sure exactly how much funding would be appropriated until the deal was signed.

Last week, President Trump signed the bipartisan USMCA trade agreement which included $300 million to address the sewage issue.

The work is not yet done, more planning is still required before shovels go in the ground, but this is a victory worth celebrating. It is a victory that would not have been possible without broad community support. It is a victory that serves as a reminder of what can be accomplished when people put aside their differences and work together towards a common goal.

The next major stakeholder meeting will be hosted in Coronado in March and will include representatives from all local and federal stakeholders. This meeting will be open to the public. Everyone will be invited to celebrate the $300 million in funding and learn about the formal plan going forward.

Mayor Richard Bailey and Councilmember Whitney Benzian serve as the City of Coronado’s Subcommittee on the Tijuana River Valley Sewage Issue.

 Mayor Richard Bailey and Councilmember Whitney Benzian

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Originally from upstate New York, Dani Schwartz has lived in Coronado since 1996. She is thrilled to call Coronado home and raise her two children here. In her free time enjoys hitting the gym, reading, and walking her dog around the “island.”Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: manager@coronadotimes.com