Thursday, June 13, 2024

Businesses Say They’re Losing Money Due to Sewage Crisis

sewage-closures beach sign
Coronado Beach on Memorial Day Weekend 2023. Megan Kitt / The Coronado Times

The Tijuana sewage crisis has negatively impacted most South Bay businesses, a survey conducted by San Diego County found.

About 74% of businesses said they have felt the impact in the survey, although it’s important to note that the online, opt-in survey does not constitute a formal study.

However, the survey does provide anecdotal evidence to support what leaders and community members have been saying for years: That sewage-polluted beaches carry an economic cost.

“My business relies on people going to the beach and into the ocean,” one respondent said. “Tourists are appalled when I tell them that they can’t go into the water.”

Another respondent, whose business sells and rents beach equipment, cited revenue losses of $30,000 over the last seven to eight months.

About half of the 63 responding businesses said they have lost $100,000 or more in revenue due to the crisis, with some saying they’ve lost that much in the last fiscal year alone. However, about half also said that, if the situation did not improve, they would still be able to keep their businesses afloat.

Again, those numbers come with a caveat: they have not been independently verified, and determining cause of declining revenue in businesses is difficult. It is likely that beach closures reduced foot traffic for businesses near the coast, but it is just as likely that the financial squeeze of inflation caused a drop as well. Presumably, a combination of those and other factors contributed.

Tourism generates $23.4 billion in San Diego County each year, the region’s third-largest economic driver. The industry yields about 200,000 jobs, according to the San Diego Tourism Authority.

Survey respondents said beach closures are hurting their industry.

“We are a nonprofit that runs youth and family outdoor education and recreation programs with a focus on the county’s disadvantaged communities,” one survey respondent said. “We typically run our programs at Imperial Beach and Silver Strand State Beach and have experienced increased staff and transportation costs associated with having to go to more distant beaches to run programs. Other times, we have been unable to gain permits to run programs at other beaches and have had to cancel programs.”

The study was conducted after the San Diego County Board of Supervisors declared the ongoing sewage crisis an emergency last year. Due to crumbling infrastructure on both the US and Mexico sides of the border, millions of gallons of raw sewage is dumped into the Pacific Ocean daily, causing widespread beach closures in the South Bay.

Representatives Scott Peters (CA-50) and Veronica Escobar (TX-16) last week requested an additional $278 million for the International Boundary and Water Commission’s (IBWC) construction budget in the Fiscal Year 2025 (FY 25) Appropriations bill in effort to solve the problem.

This year’s federal budget allocated $156 million toward the IBWC for projects that would both repair and expand capacity and wastewater treatment plants in San Diego. This is in addition to the $300 million awarded to remediation in 2023, plus an additional $144 million pledged from Mexico for infrastructure on its own side of the border.

Repairs to and expansion of the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant, the largest project related to the matter, carry an estimated cost of $1 billion.

“Although there was a significant increase in funding for FY24 from Fiscal Year 2023, the IBWC continues to face obstacles as it seeks to fully carry out its mission,” a letter from the Congress members reads. “These obstacles include outdated construction equipment, sediment buildup, a need for new levees, ongoing drought, and much more. It also faces an inadequate baseline of funding for staffing and support.”

The members also requested language to allow other federal agencies and non-federal entities, such as state and local governments and non-profit organizations, to transfer money to the IBWC and $89.3 million for the IBWC’s Salaries and Expenses account, which is a $20 million increase over what President Biden has requested.

The total funding request, if enacted, would be enough for IBWC to fix and upgrade SBIWTP to treat 50 million gallons of wastewater per day.

The letter was also signed by Representatives Juan Vargas (CA-52), Sara Jacobs (CA-51), Mike Levin (CA-49), Dan Crenshaw (TX-2), Richard Hudson (NC-8), Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15), Derrick Van Orden (WI-3), and Katie Porter (CA-45).

Megan Kitt
Megan Kitt
Megan has worked as a reporter for more than 10 years, and her work in both print and digital journalism has been published in more than 25 publications worldwide. She is also an award-winning photographer. She holds BA degrees in journalism, English literature and creative writing and an MA degree in creative writing and literature. She believes a quality news publication's purpose is to strengthen a community through informative and connective reporting.Megan is also a mother of three and a Navy spouse. After living around the world both as a journalist and as a military spouse, she immediately fell in love with San Diego and Coronado for her family's long-term home.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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