Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sewage treatment plant opening big step forward for Baja region


Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 12:05 a.m.

TIJUANA— In 1990, Tecate, Rosarito Beach and Tijuana treated about 50 percent of their sewage, with the rest running into the Tijuana River or being dumped directly into the Pacific Ocean. That led to frequent closures of beaches in south San Diego County due to high levels of contamination.

With the opening Tuesday of the La Morita sewage treatment plant in Tijuana, officials said the region will soon treat 90 percent of its wastewater. The facility in the fast-growing southeast portion of the city will treat up to 20 percent of the incoming flow for use in irrigation. A nursery built next to the plant will use some of the water to grow trees and plants that will be planted throughout Baja California. The treated water will also irrigate a soccer field and public plaza next to the plant.

With the opening of another facility scheduled for the end of the year, Baja California Gov. José Guadalupe Osuna Millán and Tijuana Mayor Jorge Ramos predict the region will treat 100 percent of its sewage, a first in Mexico. Throughout the country, only about 35 percent of the wastewater is treated.

“This is a significant step toward our goal of making Tijuana green,” the governor said during a ceremony inaugurating the plant.

Environmentalists on hand for the opening hailed it as significant progress toward cleaning up the border.

“We are here to recognize and applaud their work,” said Ben McCue, of the U.S. environmental group Wildcoast. “In turn, we get clean water in San Diego.”

The plant, designed to treat about 5.6 million gallons of sewage daily, is in a valley surrounded by fast-growing suburbs and industry. It will serve approximately 250,000 people.

While the plant was built with funds from Mexico’s federal government and a loan from Japan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is contributing $2.7 million to connect more than 8,000 homes to the plant. Since 1998, the agency has invested $56 million to pay for 18 infrastructure projects in cities along the border, seven of which have been completed, said Doug Liden, an environmental engineer with the Environmental Protection Agency.

The region is close to reaching its wastewater treatment goal even though the population has increased by an average of 100,000 people a year during the past decade.

“Ten years ago, the focus was getting the waste out of the river,” Liden said. “The waste is pretty much out of the river. Now the focus is on trash and sediment.”

Monday, April 26, 2010

South Bay secondary treatment facilities to be completed by January

Environment and Resources - Water
BY Emily Holding
Tuesday, 20 April 2010 16:04

After years of waiting for funding and litigation, the construction of the secondary treatment facilities at the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant finally has a projected date of completion.

Ed Brusina, commissioner of the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, says the long-awaited facilities should be finished next January. In a March 23 letter to the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Brusina called the completion of the secondary treatment facilities one of his highest priorities.

The South Bay Treatment Plant in San Ysidro was built in 1997 to handle untreated wastewater from Mexico coming into the U.S. through the Tijuana River. The plant treats 25 million gallons of water per day to primary treatment standards, but the Clean Water Act requires that water be given secondary treatment before it is released into the ocean. The secondary treatment facilities were not included in the initial construction due to lack of funding and legal challenges, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Lack of secondary sewage treatment provisions has led to beach closures in places like Imperial Beach and Coronado. Environmental group WildCoast reports that 80 to 90 percent of the beach closures in San Diego County each year are due to this pollution carried into the U.S. from the Tijuana River. Last March, surfers at Imperial Beach were encouraged to get Hepatitis vaccinations due to the pollution.

Pollution from Tijuana has been a concern since 1934, when the U.S. and Mexico asked the International Boundary Commission to cooperate in a report on the Tijuana sewage problem. In the ‘90s, the U.S. and Mexican sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address the problem by building the South Bay treatment plant, which was completed in 1997.

In 2001, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (CRWQCB) sued the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC) in federal court, asking for judicial enforcement of waste discharge requirements at the South Bay plant. The court issued a final judgment in favor of the CRWQCB in December 2004, which included a Compliance Order directing the USIBWC to construct secondary treatment facilities by August 24, 2008.

A year before this due date, the USIBWC asked for an amendment to the Compliance Order that would extend the deadline to March 2010. But Congress ended up setting aside $66 million in the 2008 budget for the secondary treatment facilities. Despite this funding for secondary treatment of the South Bay plant, the court extended the deadline to Jan. 5, 2011.

In order to meet this deadline, Drusina said that the USIBWC negotiated two modifications to the existing contract in early 2010 to speed up the process. The modifications cost about $4 million and include overtime for existing and additional crews and accelerated delivery of equipment. In the letter to the CRWQCB, Drusina said the USIBWC has made some in-house changes as well, which include a full-time contracting officer and increased on-site personnel observations.

“This additional work will result in secondary treatment of SBIWTP (South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant) effluent by January 5, 2011, which the contractor has guaranteed and in accordance with the deadline established by the court order,” Drusina wrote, adding that he appreciates “that this has been a long project fraught with difficulties, and that we are all anxious to complete the SBIWTP.”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Environmentalists call for binational solution to clean up Tijuana River

Jay Novak used to ignore the pollution warning signs in Imperial Beach and go surf the dreamy, if dirty, break.

No more.

"I used to go out in the water even when it was polluted," he said. "I ruptured both of my eardrums from ear infections. Obviously, I don't do that anymore."

Toxic chemicals and fecal matter have lined the Tijuana River Valley for decades, making it one of America's most polluted rivers. But there may be a glimmer of new hope. Even as the condition of the valley has continued to deteriorate, collaborative new efforts among U.S. and Mexican environmental groups have brought forth new attention and some positive momentum.

The binational river enters the United States behind the Plaza de las Americas mall in San Ysidro, and empties into the Tijuana Estuary, just south of Imperial Beach. In addition to being a primary habitat for hundreds of species of animals, the estuary channels water from the Tijuana River into the Pacific Ocean.

Novak, founder of the Tijuana River Valley Citizen's Council (TRCC), has witnessed the pollution firsthand.

"Any day during or after a rain you can see the water coming out," he said. "It's not a pleasant sight. The water is usually brown and sudsy, and it's usually littered with lots of plastics and debris."

The amount of pollution that flows out of the river, often in excess of 225 million gallons of contaminated water per minute, swamps the small filtering facility in the riverbed on the American side. Novak said the plant can only treat 25 to 30 million gallons per day.

"When the plant is overwhelmed by the amount of water during and following rainy days all that polluted water simply bypasses the system and flows straight into the estuary and then into the Pacific Ocean," he said.

Oscar Romo, Watershed Coordinator for the Tijuana River National Estuary Research Reserve, said that sediments in the water pose a threat to the environment and public health.

Paloma Aguirre, coastal conservation program coordinator at WiLDCOAST, said a study conducted by SDSU found strands of Hepatitis A and other diseases in the river.

All parties acknowledge that the crisis has amplified in recent years.

"The problem has a direct correlation to the population of Tijuana and the lack of proper sewage and trash facilities," said Novak. "As Tijuana has grown, so too has the pollution and dirty water issue."

Aguirre said that the local government is simply unable to keep pace with the rate at which Tijuana has grown. She said that although it might be easy to blame Tijuana and the Mexican government, that it is not fair and unproductive.

"There is absolutely no blame to be placed anywhere," she said.

Romo shared the same sentiments.

"It is so easy to point the finger at a community like Tijuana," he said. "But that is plain ignorance. Mexican officials are taking this problem very seriously. It is not as if they don't care or don't want to do anything to help, it is just the means by which to implement a project that are unavailable to them. Mexico has simply not had the financial resources to have taken care of the issue by themselves."

Dan Murphy, campaign manager of the "No BS" campaign for the Surfrider Foundation, agreed.

"They are trying on their side of the border," he said. "They want to know and are willing to learn what they need to do to prevent their sewage from winding up in the river."

The organizations agreed that their biggest challenge was the issue of bi-nationality.

"Because it is a binational issue, there are different levels of involvement on a local, regional, and national scale on both sides of the border," said Aguirre.

Prior administrations have made attempts, Romo said, but those efforts have been hasty and foolish.

"The Reagan administration was the first to shed light on the issue," he said. "But it acted quickly and irrationally. Now we are paying the consequences for that botched attempt."

Murphy said that the government on our side is slowly becoming more involved.

"Senator Denise Ducheney introduced a bill to allocate a certain amount of funds to starting a tire recycling program in Mexico," he said. "Not only that, the EPA has been doing a great job lately of working with the water agencies down there. So we're really seeing a lot of progress."

Aguirre said the most important step was to keep open lines of communication between environmentalist coalitions and government officials from each side.

Politics may prevent those lines from opening.

"By the time we even begin to establish a good relationship and social network with their officials, it is re-election time," said Romo. "It is difficult to maintain the type of communication we need with so much turnover."

With constant communication being the key, local nonprofits, such as TRCC, the Surfrider Foundation and WiLDCOAST have stepped up their levels of involvement and are making an impact by keeping communication lines open and bustling.

Kelly Keniston, steering committee member at TRCC, said the joint efforts of such organizations are new and leading the issue in the right direction, despite previous conflicting views between the groups.

"We are all working together to keep the issue on the forefront of the elected officials' minds," she said.

Murphy agreed.

"We've made a lot of progress," he said. "Every time we come together and have these meetings, there is more getting done, and even more on the horizon."

The organizations, which now convene under the recently formed Tijuana River Recovery Team, are cautiously optimistic about its prospects of garnering national attention.

"It's a local problem," said Romo. "We'd like it to be solved by locals on each side of the border, but we know that is not possible. To us it is a huge issue, but to officials in Mexico City and Washington D.C, it's not yet."

These organizations are focused on raising awareness locally and regionally, which they hope will translate into bringing national recognition.

"There are a ton of people here in our community that don't realize the severity of the situation," said Novak. "If people living here don't know about it, I doubt people living in Sacramento or outside of the state are any more informed."

A priority of the groups is to start small and let local efforts snowball into much larger future efforts.

"A big focus is getting volunteers down here," said Murphy. "They need to see the issue first hand. From there, the community can put a huge amount of pressure on politicians, letting them know that we are tired of swimming in pollution. We are tired of having to get Hepatitis shots all the time, and getting our ears drilled from the sewage. We're not going to just stand there and watch these beautiful waves breaking from the beach. We are tired of this issue."

By: Anthony Dacong

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I.B. Declares April Environmental Awareness Month

In the spirit of Earth Day on April 22, Imperial Beach has declared April Environmental Awareness Month and is hosting events to help residents recycle, reuse items and clean up their neighborhood.

In honor of Environmental Awareness Month, the city and EDCO will bestow “Recycling All-Star” awards to four Imperial Beach residents who exemplify exceptional recycling and waste reduction practices based on their ratio of recycling, trash and green waste put curbside for trash pick-up. Award winners will receive $100 from EDCO and a bag of environmental goodies from the city. Each of the winners will be chosen on a different pickup day, giving recyclers throughout the city a chance to win all month long.

The 9th annual Citywide Garage Sale, to be held 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 24, will offer residents a free opportunity to sell clothing, furniture and other items they no longer use. It's also a chance for shoppers to save money and support their neighbors by spending the day shopping among the garage sale locations instead of going to a mall.

Maps of the garage sale locations are available at the city's Public Works Department and at any 7-Eleven stores in Imperial Beach starting April 20. Maps will also be available on the city's Web site,

“These community events are a great way to check-off spring cleaning to-do lists and prepare for summer by picking up some new items at a garage sale,” said Environmental Program Specialist Guy Nelson. “Plus, you can get to know your neighbors and support your community while lessening the adverse impact on the environment.”

Also on Saturday, April 24 will be the 8th annual Creek to Bay Cleanup held by I Love a Clean San Diego and sponsored in part by Imperial Beach. The city is sponsoring the cleanup as a regional watershed activity to raise public awareness on storm water pollution. Residents are encouraged to participate in two cleanup sites scheduled at the Tijuana River mouth and Tijuana River Valley. For more information or to join a clean-up team, visit

Residents are encouraged to clean out their homes and get rid of appliances, furniture, yard waste, metal concrete, asphalt, home-improvement debris and electronic waste through the Home Front Cleanup event. Residents can dispose of any such items as long as they do not contain hazardous waste for free courtesy of EDCO. Items should be dropped off at the collection site at Mar Vista High School from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 1.

Seniors or physically disabled residents not able to drop items off for the Home Front Cleanup can schedule a curbside pick-up of no more than five bulky items. Those wishing to utilize this offer must schedule an appointment before April 23 by calling EDCO at (619) 287-7555.

For more information about Environmental Awareness Month activities, contact Imperial Beach Environmental Program Specialist Guy Nelson, at (619) 424-4095.