San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer this week joined with other area mayors and elected officials to again call upon the federal government to “support a long-term fix to the sewage pollution that routinely flows over the border from Tijuana.” A joint resolution put out by state and local stakeholders points out that “untreated sewage, trash, sediment, hazardous chemicals, heavy metals, and toxins have entered Southern California through the Tijuana River Watershed since the 1930s,” including a massive sewage spill in February 2017 in which 143 million gallons of waste was dumped into the United States.
Faulconer said in a press release, “The federal government is going to see vote after vote come out of the San Diego region in December with one clear message; it’s time for action. Our unified voice calling on Washington and Mexico City is gaining traction.”
“This joint resolution illustrates the unanimous support from local and state leaders to solve the ongoing cross border pollution crisis,” Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina said in a press statement. “We are not looking to support any half fixes to this issue. We all agree and endorse a proposed list of specific pollution control projects that are necessary for the Tijuana River and through this joint resolution we are now asking the U.S. EPA to move these projects forward.”
The current system includes pumps in the Tijuana River and in the canyons west of the San Ysidro Port of Entry basins that suck polluted flows out of the watershed before they can reach San Diego shorelines. However, sewage spills, power outages, clogged drains and even light rain can overwhelm the equipment, and has led to beach closures at the border on more than 840 days since 2015.
I visited the area in July 2018 at the invitation of Christopher Harris, a now-retired US Border Patrol agent and National Border Patrol Council representative. He said that when it rains built-up trash and debris flow over the border, and when it really, really rains during winter storms, Border Patrol agents have seen furniture, cars, cattle, and even bodies float past them in the Tijuana River (pictured below).
A portion of the Tijuana River near the San Ysidro Port of Entry. (Personal Photo/Jennifer Van Laar)
Border Patrol agents have developed rashes from exposure, and one agent was permanently disabled after contracting an infection from nerotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating bacteria) in 2010. Agent Joshua Willey’s arm was swollen to “the size of a volleyball,” and he narrowly avoided having to have his arm amputated.
Multiple cities and the State of California have filed lawsuits against the federal government, citing Clean Water Act violations, in an attempt to force action.