Federal Government Commits to Fixing Tijuana River Sewage Crisis in San Diego County

WHAT TO KNOW: Following advocacy from Governor Newsom, members of Congress, and other state and local leaders, the federal government has committed to rehabilitate and expand a federal wastewater treatment plant to address the ongoing Tijuana River sewage crisis along the San Diego County coastline. SACRAMENTO – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) committed to commence a major rehabilitation and expansion of the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant in San Ysidro.

Here’s what’s happening:

  • IBWC has already initiated repairs to damage caused to the Treatment Plant by Tropical Storm Hilary;
  • EPA will transfer approximately $350 million that has been appropriated for work on this project;
  • Federal partners also committed to begin a coordinated funding strategy to provide further resources to complete the expansion and associated projects to address the situation;
  • Work will benefit from expedited timelines.

The commitment from EPA comes after the Newsom Administration’s engagement with federal and binational partners, including letters sent last month by Governor Newsom to the President and Congress requesting urgent action and additional funding. And, it follows the yearslong work of Speaker Emerita Pelosi, Senators Feinstein and Padilla, the San Diego area congressional delegation, and other leaders who have been dedicated to addressing this critical issue – the hundreds of millions of dollars for this project would never have materialized without their tireless efforts.What Governor Newsom said: “I want to thank President Biden, U.S. EPA, and the IBWC for their commitment to move this critical project forward on expedited timelines. This has been an issue that San Diego communities have dealt with for far too long. It’s an important step forward that the work on this critical project will finally begin. I want to commend Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, the San Diego area congressional delegation, San Diego County Supervisor Nora Vargas, Mayor Todd Gloria, and other federal, state, and local partners for their committed advocacy to address this environmental and public health crisis. I look forward to working with federal partners to fully address this challenging issue.” What U.S. EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox said: “EPA is committed to working with the International Boundary and Water Commission, the State of California, and local officials to protect public health, beach water quality, and wildlife habitat in the Tijuana-San Diego area. The $350 million investment we are making in the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant, alongside improved wastewater management practices in Mexico, will help us make progress. We will work to ensure the earliest possible completion of the rehabilitation and expansion project, as well as continuing to identify additional funding for sustainable, long-term progress on water management in the region.”What IBWC Commissioner Dr. Maria-Elena Giner said: “My agency will dedicate almost all our construction budget in the coming fiscal year to the project that will eventually double our South Bay plant’s capacity. This expansion, combined with parallel Mexican projects, will reduce cross-border wastewater flows by up to 90 percent in the Tijuana-San Diego area. That’s good news for public health and our efforts to reopen California beaches. I want to thank the partners, elected officials, community organizations, and other stakeholders who worked so hard to get us to this point.” What Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) said: “This is a public health and environmental crisis, and I appreciate the Biden-Harris Administration for utilizing the federal funding allocated to help fix the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant in San Diego, and the commitment to seek additional long-term solutions. I’m also grateful for the partnership of our San Diego Legislative delegation, Speaker Rivas, Governor Newsom, and our Congressional representatives, who have been unwavering in advocating for the funding needed for the plant. California has spent millions of dollars to address issues related to the ongoing sewage contamination, but we can’t fix the problems alone. The beach closures and hazardous conditions are primarily being shouldered by our underserved communities and working families in our region, even affecting military personnel training in the area – this is an issue of environmental justice, and the action announced today is a significant step toward permanently addressing this issue for our communities.” The South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant has long suffered from operation and maintenance challenges and, in recent years, has received increasing wastewater flows from the Tijuana River. In 2020, U.S. EPA received $300 million to upgrade the Plant and identified several projects that would increase its treatment capacity. Since 2020, flows and maintenance costs have only increased. Today’s announcement solidifies the U.S. EPA’s and federal government’s commitment to ensuring that the Plant’s expanded capacity and deferred maintenance challenges are addressed as quickly as possible.  In addition to the commitments announced today, several sanitation infrastructure projects will be completed in Mexico in advance of the South Bay Plant expansion:

  • In October, the Mexican government expects to solicit a contract for the construction of a major new wastewater treatment plant at San Antonio de los Buenos, which will greatly reduce the volumes of untreated wastewater discharged into the ocean in Mexico and reaching San Diego area beaches when ocean currents drift northward.
  • In November, the Mexican government expects to finish the repair of a major wastewater pipeline which will help reduce the excess flows.
  • U.S. EPA and the Mexican government are completing jointly-financed repairs of major wastewater collectors in Tijuana.