Public Weighs Potential Fixes to Plug Sewage Problem at US-Mexico Border

Environmental Protection Agency officials Tuesday night revealed 10 proposed solutions to a decades-long pollution problem at the U.S.-Mexico border.

A screenshot of a graphic shared by the EPA at a public meeting about the wastewater infrastructure at the U.S.-Mexico border between. (Image via Courthouse News)

SAN DIEGO (CN) — The San Diego region last year secured $300 million to plug a decades-long wastewater pollution crises in waters that snake across the U.S.-Mexico border and dump raw sewage, trash and sediment into the Pacific Ocean.

On Tuesday, Environmental Protection Agency officials held a virtual public meeting attended by more than 130 people to reveal 10 project proposals being considered to fix crumbing wastewater infrastructure at the border using the $300 million earmarked by the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

On April 5, the EPA published a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register to prepare an environmental impact statement for the proposed project, triggering a 45-day public comment period for people to weigh in on possible solutions.

“We recognize no one project addresses all of the problems,” EPA engineer Doug Eberhardt told meeting attendees.

He noted the flow of sewage from Tijuana into the Tijuana River, which snakes across the U.S.-Mexico border and empties at the Pacific Ocean in Imperial Beach, “is a direct public health threat” and year-round problem in both wet and dry seasons.

Current wastewater infrastructure in Tijuana does not have the capacity to handle the flow of sewage and runoff, some of which spills out of collectors that have reached capacity or leaks out of aging sewage pipes and contaminates the river, Eberhardt said.

The projects proposed by the EPA were separated into solutions focused on treating contaminated river water, treating sewage or targeting sediment and trash. Eberhardt said several projects may be selected to address the various problems associated with the pollution.

Proposed projects include a new Tijuana River Diversion System in the U.S., expanding and upgrading current diversion infrastructure in Mexico, treating or diverting wastewater and enhancing trash collection systems, among others.

The proposal to divert and treat water in the U.S. could treat up to 163 million gallons of wastewater a day, Eberhardt said.

But Falk Feddersen, a professor in the Integrative Oceanography Division at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego who is studying how to predict when beachgoers will get sick from contaminated water, expressed concern infrastructure that could treat over 150 gallons of wastewater isn’t sufficient.

“There are plenty of times during winter when the flow can regularly exceed this level,” Feddersen said in a written comment.

Other commenters echoed Feddersen’s concern the selected project should focus on controlling the pollution at the source in Tijuana, rather than waiting to treat it once it crosses into the U.S. watershed.

Recycling the treated wastewater was also a top concern, as only one of the proposed projects called for directing treated wastewater into the Rodriguez Dam in Mexico.

One member of the public called it a missed opportunity.

“We’re missing an excellent opportunity for wastewater reclamation and reuse, especially because we have cyclical droughts in California and Baja California,” Mitchell McKay said.

The public comment period to weigh in on potential wastewater infrastructure projects ends May 20.

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