Submitted by Leon Benham
Yesterday as a member of the South Bay community whose home is on the Tijuana River I attended the online forum One River, Two Countries: Solving the Tijuana River Pollution Problem which was moderated by the Voice of San Diego and its environmental reporter, Mackenzie Elmer and Vicente Calderon, editor of the Tijuanapress.com.
In my opinion, during the 90-minute forum not one idea or project about how to solve the Tijuana River Pollution Problem was discussed or even vetted by this panel of experts on the subject. In addition to the two moderators, the three expert panelists, including Representative Scott Peters (52nd Congressional District), Dr. Gabriela Munoz (Professor El Colegio de la Frontera Norte), and Fay Crevoshay (Policy Director WildCoast), could not offer even a simple outline of how to solve the problem of Mexico’s sewage crossing into the United States.
There were discussions of the EPA’s plan to spend $300 million of the MCA agreement set aside by the Trump Administration to solve the cross-border pollution problem, but it seemed that the 10 projects developed over the last year released a month ago was too deep of subject matter for this panel to discuss.
To his credit, Representative Scott Peters offered a comment of clarity when he stated “show me a plan and I will support it” but no plan was put forward. When the Mexican representatives asked why none of the $300 million would be spent on the Mexican side of the border it was refreshing to hear the straightforward tactful response by Representative Peters…corruption. The Mexican panelist could only agree with his well worded statement.
The meeting next discussed the administration and ability of the US IBWC (International Boundary and Water Commission) to implement a plan. Nothing was mentioned about how the IBWC has already been capturing Mexican sewage over the last fifteen plus years through its (5) canyon collectors. The IBWC is the only public agency on the US side of the border who has done any tangible thing about cross border sewage. They work around the clock, 365 days a year and capture almost all dry weather flows of sewage. Rain events, or wet weather flows, are just too large for any system to capture.
In a bad sign for South Bay communities, Scott Peters did mention that WildCoast and [Imperial Beach] Mayor Serge Dedina was still pushing for large US side containment ponds to capture water and sand. These sediment ponds have been rejected by the Citizens of San Ysidro, the EPA and were deemed impractical by a report made in 2012 by the City of San Diego. For most people who live in the South Bay it makes no sense to put ponds of Mexican sewage next to our homes. For example, in the last year it was deemed as a “Crisis” emergency that large sewage ponds of water in Mexico had formed just on the other side of the border. In fact, the IBWC sent large pumps to dry out these ponds. So why would we intentionally store ponds of Mexican sewage next to our homes in the United States.
I think that public dialog is great. But this presentation and the many misstatements by the Voice of San Diego do not serve the public interest and just exasperate us and show our local and state leadership is lacking the brain power and/or just do not really care about this segment of our community. In the last year, the Citizens of the South Bay have been attending meetings by the County of San Diego, City of San Diego and now the Voice of San Diego. These meetings have largely lacked public dialog, show lack of organizational ability, have little viable content, or provide and even outline of solutions to our problems.
It is very telling how bad it is, but a last observation: in almost all cases the larger an organization becomes the more bureaucratic and lethargic it becomes. That is not true in the case of the State of California. In a stunning reversal the State of California environmental policy has become so lethargic that it is less responsive than the US Federal Government. Its hard to believe but the tangible, on the ground improvements in the Tijuana River Valley made by the US Federal Government far exceed the State of California, County of San Diego, and the City of San Diego. In fact I cannot think of one project that local government has completed which has improved the Tijuana River Valley environment. We cannot wait any longer or coastal environment is at stake… its time to change the leadership in California.