Editorial: Tijuana sewage solution finally found. It shouldn't have taken this long

The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Op Eds

After years of San Diego County beaches being fouled by sewage leaks from broken and dilapidated infrastructure in Tijuana, officials in Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, San Diego and the state government sued the Trump administration, arguing that the federal government had long ignored its obligations under the Clean Water Act. That 1972 law, inspired by a heavily polluted river catching fire in Ohio in 1969, requires the federal government to keep waterways clean and to provide funding to -- and work with -- state governments to facilitate it.

Last week, these legal threats and ongoing talks for the first time appeared to pay off. In a meeting in Coronado with local officials, Mike Stoker, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Pacific Southwest region, said that it was unlikely that county beaches could escape pollution from Tijuana entirely in the aftermath of heavy storms, but that EPA engineers had identified several projects that could significantly reduce the problem.

One $108 million project would increase the daily capacity of water-scrubbing infrastructure from 23 million gallons of sewage-tainted water to 60 million gallons -- potentially reducing the days a year in which sewage from the Tijuana River spilled into the U.S. from the average of 138 seen annually from 2009 to 2016 to 30, a 78% reduction. Under federal law, the Mexican government must pay at least half the cost.

The White House is already in complex negotiations over trade and immigration with the Mexican government, so adding another element may seem problematic. But the Tijuana sewage issue must be part of the mix. Mexico should be able to find $54 million in its $291.5 billion operating budget for its share of the cost of a water-scrubbing plant. The same is true of the U.S. and its $4.7 trillion budget.

Why the EPA waited so long to offer a specific solution after an apparent problem had caused local beaches to close a third of the year is a mystery. But now that one has been identified, let's get on with it.


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