Newsom urges Congress to approve funding for Tijuana River sewage treatment

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) urged Congress on Monday to approve a $310 million Biden administration proposal that would help alleviate a cross-border sewage crisis in the Tijuana River Valley.

San Diego County communities like Imperial Beach, which sits just a few miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, have long been plagued by a perpetual pollution problem: the flow of raw sewage from Baja California into its U.S. neighbor of similar name.

“Southern California communities have suffered from this crisis for far too long, impacting the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people,” Newsom wrote in the letter.

Facilitating the flow of sewage are both seasonal ocean currents and the Tijuana River Watershed, which starts in the U.S. but then heads into Mexico before returning to California. In recent years, climate-fueled weather extremes have only exacerbated the problem.

Congress in 2020 appropriated $300 million toward renovating the South Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant, a facility located on the California side of the border but run jointly by the U.S.-Mexico International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC).

The plant, located in the border-adjacent San Diego district of San Ysidro, treats some of Tijuana’s sewage.

But the facility now requires an added $150 million in repairs, Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre recently told The Hill. Some of the site’s sedimentation tanks are so clogged with solids that plants are sprouting out of them, she noted.

Aguirre stressed that the extra funds, which would not only fix but help expand the facility, are “contingent on congressional approval.”

President Biden this past October asked Congress to authorize an additional $310 million for the region in an emergency supplemental bill.

Newsom’s letter on Monday — to high-ranking Democrats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives — emphasized the need “to repair long-neglected infrastructure” at the treatment plant.

He stressed that this is “a federal facility on federal land,” meaning that “it is the federal government’s responsibility to complete the capital improvements that are required.”

Only doing so, Newsom noted, can “stop the ongoing harmful discharges into the marine environment that are impacting public health, the local economy and ecosystems.”

“Congress must act quickly to approve the President’s proposal and provide this much needed, urgent funding,” the governor added.

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