Science & Technology



California Assembly passes resolution urging Congress, Biden to alleviate Tijuana sewage crisis

Tammy Murga, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Science & Technology News

Members of the California Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a resolution that urges President Joe Biden and Congress to immediately alleviate the Tijuana sewage crisis.

Assembly Joint Resolution 12, which now heads to the Senate, asks federal lawmakers to approve a $310 million supplemental appropriation to fix and expand an outdated wastewater treatment plant at the U.S.-Mexico border that has allowed cross-border pollution to shutter South County beaches and risk people's health. The measure also asks the president to declare a national emergency.

It also asks that the federal government provide funds to stop cross-border pollution of the New River, which crosses into Calexico, California, from Mexico.

Assemblymember David Alvarez, a Democrat, and other San Diego lawmakers sponsored the resolution. It passed with zero opposition and with 71 lawmakers of the 80-member Assembly signing on as co-authors.

"Dec. 8, 2021. Where were you," Alvarez asked Thursday from the Assembly floor. "It's been a couple years now. That's how long it's been since the beach in South San Diego, Imperial Beach has been closed and inaccessible to our families due to the pollution of Tijuana River Valley, which this resolution is about."

The measure is the first in several years since the Legislature issued a statewide call for action on the sewage crisis.


In 2018, the Legislature approved Senate Joint Resolution 22, which urged the federal government and the International Boundary and Water Commission, which manages the San Diego-based treatment plant, "to take immediate action." The resolution came more than a year after one of the largest sewage spills resulted in 143 million gallons of toxic waste flowing into the Tijuana River Valley, and more than a year before Congress approved $300 million to double the capacity of the treatment plant.

Last year, however, it was revealed that the unspent funds would fall short because of deferred maintenance, which officials had estimated to cost about $150 million. The cost to repair and expand the plant has now ballooned to $900 million, according to the IBWC.

Besides pushing for more funding, many elected officials and advocates urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare the crisis an emergency. His administration has repeatedly made the case, however, that the issue is a federal one. So, the same call has now shifted to Biden.

"We know what needs to be done, but we cannot do it without federal assistance," said Alvarez, adding that the resolution "sends a unified message" to the federal government and reinforces their commitment to the state Constitution "that guarantees maximum public access to the coast. This guarantee is currently not offered to my constituents and hasn't been for over 800 days."

Meanwhile, at the federal level, Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., on Wednesday urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prioritize extending its engineering and contracting expertise with the IBWC, which is in the process of soliciting a contractor to rehabilitate and expand the treatment plant.

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