TIJUANA, Mexico – The United States and Mexico on May 4 announced the authorization of two public works projects that are expected to reduce and improve the Tijuana River sewage contamination problem for both countries.
Comisión Estatal de Servicios Públicos de Tijuana, the State Commission of Public Services of Tijuana (CESPT) along with CONAGUA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hosted the public information meeting in Tijuana’s State Center for the Arts.
The entities certified the replacement of the International Collector, which has the capacity to carry up to 60 million gallons per day of untreated sewage to the International Wastewater Treatment Plant on the border, and the rehabilitation of Pump Station 1 to funnel river water and excess wastewater to the Tijuana coast.
Each country will contribute approximately half of the roughly $30 million cost, according to the EPA.
The fixes are part of a larger $474 million mission between the two countries in a deal signed last summer called Minute 328, which laid out commitments to mitigate a near century-long problem of raw sewage flowing into the Pacific Ocean and onto the shorelines of Imperial Beach, Coronado and other San Diego County beaches.
One key official said the event was intended to inform the public about the ongoing partnership between the two countries.
The event comes after The Coronado News earlier this year published a five-part series that examined a nearly century-long legacy of broken promises by both countries that created a public health crisis and exposed beachgoers, U.S. Border Patrol agents and U.S. Navy SEALS to a myriad of diseases from the fecal-filled ocean.
US contribution: $13 million
Since the Tijuana wastewater infrastructure is decades old and the majority is failing, these new, mostly collective projects, are crucial to reduce untreated wastewater spills, officials said at a meeting that was in Spanish.
The EPA reported that the U.S. contribution is $13 million through the North American Development Bank, a bilateral financial institution created by the North American Free Trade Agreement and capitalized equally by the U.S. and Mexico.
Treatment plant progress
Thomas E. Reott, U.S. consul general in Tijuana, said both nations estimate that these projects will reduce the flow of wastewater into the Tijuana River by 50% and reduce the total amount reaching the Pacific Ocean by 80%.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is working on expanding the International Wastewater Treatment Plant, and Mexico expects to build a new wastewater treatment plant at Punta Bandera to halt the untreated water entering the Pacific Ocean, officials said.
“In the U.S., we have a contractor who is carrying out preliminary work to double the capacity of our International Wastewater Treatment Plant in San Ysidro, California,” said Sally Spener, Foreign Affairs Officer for the IBWC.
2026 Treatment Plant
While the CESPT says CONAGUA has approved a new treatment plant in San Antonio de los Buenos, breaking ground seems far off because approval of resources is pending.
CESPT Director Víctor Daniel Amador Barragán during his presentation delved into the six previous Minute agreements or treaties that led to the construction of currently failing infrastructure.
Treatment plants PITAR and PTAR SAB were built in the 1980s and 1990s and have now failed to serve the growing Tijuana population, allowing critical levels of outflowing sewage to affect bi-national communities.
Further, the Colorado River drought has now urged Mexico to focus on conserving water, which rehabilitation at the Antonio de los Buenos treatment plant may allow, said Barragán.
Still, he considers certifying Pump Station 1 and the International Collector will allow the projects to be completed by 2024.
PTAR SAB is a different process, which will begin in 2024 and likely begin operations in 2026, he said.
Regarding private funds for PTAR SAB, Barragán said, different companies will have the opportunity to bid to cover construction costs and operations will repay respective expenses.
Barragán emphasized that the importance of the event was to inform the public about project funds, and share the work of moving efforts towards the timeline to 2028.
“You have to change the whole thing”
The event attracted a group of residents including Gabriela Guinea.
The 74-year-old said she’s lived 30 years in Playas de Tijuana, and she urged stakeholders to consider a project to fix sewer water spills in different communities and to reuse wastewater as is done in San Diego.
After the meeting, Guinea shared that she has been following this issue for four years.
She said the meeting was interesting and a great example of binational collaboration, however it requires US authorities to oversee that projects are completed according to timelines and a very tight collaboration to help move the solution ahead.
“If they have no solutions for the population that actually lives here, why are they trying to increase it?”-Resident Gabriela Guinea
“You have to change the whole thing,” said Guinea. “It’s going to be chaotic if they continue giving permits to more buildings. … There’s not enough water. There’s not enough treatment plants. They’re doing their best to increase the plants. But why are they changing the concentration of the people in the same area? If they have no solutions for the population that actually lives here, why are they trying to increase it?”
Imperial Beach Stakeholder meeting
Officials from EPA and the Tijuana River Watershed Stakeholders privately met earlier in the day in Imperial Beach.
EPA Press Officer Julia Giarmoleo said stakeholders at that meeting included the following governmental entities: U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; U.S. Department of State; U.S. Navy; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; U.S. Department of Commerce; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; North American Development Bank; California Environmental Protection Agency; San Diego Regional Board, California; California Natural Resource Agency; San Diego County, California; City of Chula Vista, California; City of Coronado, California; City of Imperial Beach, California; City of San Diego, California; and the Port of San Diego, California.
EPA Regional Administrator for the nation’s Pacific Southwest Region (Region 9) Martha Guzman shared at the Tijuana public meeting that she was an attendee in a meeting across the US-Mexico border where the progress to expand infrastructure was discussed.
According to Guzman, the point of her visit was primarily to join stakeholders in Tijuana.
The meeting in Imperial Beach had a series of updates on the progress on the International Treatment Plant and congressional changes given to IBWC in preparation for a virtual bilingual public meeting on May 9.
Guzman said the Imperial Beach meeting was held so federal and state partners could update each other and prepare for the public meeting in Tijuana.