San Diego Lawmakers Secure $300M for Cross-Border Pollution Crisis

SAN DIEGO (CN) – Standing in front of the San Diego Bay on Friday and touting the importance of being able to surf with dolphins, elected leaders called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to immediately allocate $300 million secured by a trade agreement signed this week to address a cross-border wastewater pollution crisis.

As part of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) signed by President Donald Trump this week, the San Diego region secured $300 million for the Border Water Infrastructure Program to address decades-long pollution in the Tijuana River Valley.

U.S. Rep. Mike Levin (center) was flanked by Rep. Susan Davis (right) and other San Diego congressional and local officials on Friday, calling for the immediate allocation of $300 million from the USMCA trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada to tackle wastewater pollution along the U.S.-Mexico border. (Bianca Bruno / CNS)

The funding package includes $75 million a year over four years to address wastewater pollution issues in the border region.

While the USMCA includes specific language allocating the money to San Diego, officials said Friday they may still have to fight to ensure it is spent in San Diego and not Texas, which had similar wastewater pollution issues in the 1990s.

More than 57 billion gallons of sewage have spilled across the border since 2014, according to the International Boundary & Water Commission.

U.S. Rep. Mike Levin, a Democrat representing the San Diego area, lobbied for the $300 million infrastructure investment to be included in the USMCA. He said Friday that local officials saw the new agreement as the opportunity they needed to secure federal assistance to resolve the pollution crisis, which has seen 50 million gallons of pollution spill into the Tijuana River daily since November.

Previous appropriations only allocated $15 million a year to provide border water infrastructure improvements along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, Levin said, noting this fiscal year’s budget did not include funding for the Border Water Infrastructure Program.

Levin said now the U.S. has pledged to invest in the problem, Mexico must do the same.

“We need to make sure folks on the Mexico side of the border understand this is their responsibility as well. We are in a good faith effort putting a lot of our federal dollars into our side of the border to help solve this problem. They’ve got to do the same,” Levin said.

San Diego politicians and environmental advocates have pressured federal officials on both sides of the border to fix crumbling wastewater infrastructure since the region suffered its worst pollution spill in decades in February 2017. A ruptured pipe in Tijuana dumped millions of gallons of pollution and raw sewage into the Tijuana River Valley, which feeds into the Pacific Ocean.

In the months following the spill, local cities including Imperial Beach and Chula Vista, plus the Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Unified Port District and State of California filed federal lawsuits against the International Boundary & Water Commission for failing to comply with the Clean Water Act.

Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina – an outspoken critic of the ongoing pollution crisis – said Friday the cases have been stayed pending allocation of the USMCA funding and infrastructure projects that could break ground sometime this year.

Dedina said he wants to spend his mornings surfing the north side of the Tijuana River mouth with the largest pod of dolphins in south San Diego’s coastal waters.

“We need to get that money appropriated and spent as quickly as possible; hopefully as quickly as possible as it was done for the border wall,” Dedina said.

“Before the lawsuits we weren’t moving the agencies forward. To where we’ve gotten today is because we had this collective, cooperative team effort that’s been relentless and focused on one thing: clean beaches and clean water. Our objective isn’t to go to court; our objective is to get clean water,” Dedina added.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer was at the USMCA signing ceremony in Washington and said he believes San Diego was the region that “pushed the hardest” to get the agreement signed.

“There is no stronger issue right now for environmental cooperation to solve a problem that is imminently solvable, and our two countries work together, than this one,” Faulconer said.

“Let’s have this be the example. That’s why the money is there, and I can tell you the political will is there in Washington and Mexico City,” he added.

The EPA will hold a public meeting on the border pollution crisis March 9 in San Diego.

U.S. Reps. Susan Davis, Juan Vargas and Scott Peters were also at the press conference Friday, as was San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox.

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