May 3, 2024 - Politics

San Diego reps again request federal funds to fix beach-polluting San Ysidro sewage plant

The U.S.-Mexico border wall

Imperial Beach was closed most of 2023 due to cross-border sewage. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Congress in March allocated $100 million to start fixing a decrepit San Ysidro wastewater plant that dumps sewage into the Pacific Ocean. Now, a group of representatives are asking to finish the job.

Why it matters: Federal officials and their Mexican counterparts have started making progress on the intractable cross-border sewage crisis, but without more resources the environmental injustice will continue.

Driving the news: A bipartisan group of 10 House members — eight in California and Texas — sent a letter to House Appropriations Committee leaders requesting next year's spending bill include $278 million for the International Boundary and Water Commission's construction budget.

  • The IBWC is the federal agency that maintains and operates the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant, along San Diego's border with Tijuana.
  • The money would include other agency needs, like building levees and dams in El Paso, Texas and repairing another wastewater facility in Nogales, Arizona.

What they're saying: Using $200 million of the funding at the San Ysidro plant would be enough to complete fixes and upgrades at the border facility, Rep. Scott Peters' (D-San Diego) office said, based on previous discussions with IBWC officials.

  • "(The plant) has for years failed to even meet Clean Water Act standards," the letter said. "That plant must be brought back into compliance."
  • San Diego Democratic representatives Sara Jacobs, Mike Levin and Juan Vargas signed on, but Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Escondido) abstained. He has previously demanded IBWC further explain the plant's cost overruns and maintenance issues.

State of play: The South Bay treatment facility is ostensibly equipped to treat 25 million gallons per day of sewage from Tijuana — but Voice of San Diego reported last year it had fallen into undisclosed disrepair and couldn't operate at that level, violating the Clean Water Act.

  • The IBWC discovered that failure while preparing to spend a $300 million, 2020 Congressional allocation meant to double the plant's capacity to 50 million gallons of sewage per day.
  • That expansion couldn't begin until the IBWC fixed the existing plant.

Flashback: President Biden signed a spending package last month that included $100 million for the repair work, after he requested $310 million.

  • The IBWC last year told San Diego's Regional Water Control Board the overall price tag for repairs and upgrades to the facility had ballooned to over $900 million.

Zoom out: In January, Mexico broke ground on repairs to a treatment plant in Punta Bandera, from which tides carry sewage north to San Diego beaches during the summer months.

Big picture: Water quality forced Imperial Beach to close its coastline for most of 2023, but Imperial beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre has estimated that completed repairs could reduce closures by 65%.

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