Sep 1, 2023 - Politics

Coronado and Imperial Beach demand state help on sewage crisis

Imperial Beach

Beaches in Imperial Beach are expected to be closed again this Labor Day weekend due to cross-border sewage. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Two of San Diego's beach communities are kicking off their holiday weekend with a protest.

Driving the news: Tijuana River sewage has forced beach closures, and the mayors of Imperial Beach and Coronado are joining a protest today to tell state and federal officials to step up.

  • Beaches are closed from the border to Avenida Lunar in southern Coronado, as county water tests continue to register bacteria levels above state thresholds.

Of note: The main stretch of Imperial Beach has been closed every day of 2023, Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre said.

Why it matters: Elevated bacteria levels off the Imperial Beach coast are an ongoing environmental justice crisis that damages public health and safety, quality of life and the local economy.

Context: Beach closures along San Diego County's southern coast are common in the winter, when rains increase Tijuana River flows beyond the capacity of the International Wastewater Treatment Plant in San Ysidro

  • Discharges from Punta Bandera, a treatment plant south of the border, contribute to summer pollution, when currents carry sewage north.

Yes, but: Two relatively recent changes have led to more frequent summertime beach closures.

Flashback: Congress allocated $300 million to the EPA to upgrade the San Ysidro wastewater treatment plan.

  • Officials learned this summer there's an additional $150 million in deferred maintenance needed at the plant, just to keep it operating at status quo.
  • California's U.S. senators are now asking the Senate Appropriations Committee to dedicate another $310 million to the plant.

What they're saying: Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey said it's time for Congress to fully fund repairs and upgrades he thinks will eventually reach $1 billion, and for the Biden administration to make the project a priority for the EPA and the U.S. State Department.

  • "We've made more progress in the last five years than in the previous 30, but it's still painfully slow," he said.
  • Aguirre is calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency, for additional resources and to signal to the federal government that the state is as dedicated to the problem as the region.
  • "Maybe if the governor were living here in IB, maybe he would understand," she said. "It's a matter of quality of life."

What we're watching: Every mayor in the county signed a letter asking the federal government to declare an emergency, and Aguirre said she's putting together another letter addressed to Newsom. The San Diego chapter of the California League of Cities already did.


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