FILE: Sewage water from Mexico being treated at the International Wastewater Treatment Plant earlier this year. Congressional leaders want answers as to why the plant has failed to properly work this year. Photo by Madeline Yang.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has sent letters to President Biden and Congress regarding funding to deal with the cross-border sewage pollution affecting the coastal shores of Imperial Beach and Coronado.

Congress appropriated $300 million to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in early 2020. Newsom is now asking that the International Boundary and Water Commission, which manages the South Bay International Treatment Plant, have immediate access to the money.

FILE – California Gov. Gavin Newsom sits in the state Assembly at the state Capitol, June 30, 2023, in Sacramento. Newsom has initiated correspondence with President Biden and Congress regarding funding for the cross-border pollution affecting the southern coastal shore near cities like Imperial Beach and Coronado. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli,File)

Newsom underlined the importance of rehabilitation and expansion of the overtaxed treatment plant in San Ysidro in addition to considerations for additional federal funds.

The Coronado News conducted a five-part investigative series on the Tijuana sewage crisis at the beginning of the year, highlighting the urgency for change that has just recently been set in motion.

Newsom vetoed $100 million in funding

The investigation followed Newsom last September vetoing a bill that would have allocated $100 million for state water resources, with half of it having the potential to assist Imperial Beach with the local sewage pollution entering the Pacific Ocean from Tijuana, according to various media reports.

Days after that veto, a pipe broke in Mexico and sent 145 million gallons of untreated water across the border via the Tijuana River, triggering more beach closures, according to Voice of San Diego.

Based on records sent by Newsom’s office to The Coronado News, Newsom made requests to President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries on Wednesday, August 9.

Newsom wrote that the international sewage treatment plant “is in very poor condition and in non-compliance with its Clean Water Act discharge permit, impacting the United States Environmental Protection Agency and IWBC’s ability to fulfill their commitments under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement Implementation Act.”

He urged the president to put the federal money into the fiscal year 2025 budget. 

Local reaction

“The Tijuana sewage issue is clearly a federal issue that can only be solved by leadership from the federal government,” says Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey in a phone call with The Coronado News. “I appreciate Gov. Newsom for speaking out on this issue, to raise awareness and asking for additional support from the Biden administration.”

Bailey and Councilmember John Duncan have met with Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre and Councilmember Mitch McKay to discuss the next steps in their joint communications on the crisis. The two cities only recently have started working together on the crisis.

In a press release shared with The Coronado News, Aguirre commended Wednesday’s letters by Newsom to federal leaders for help with the ongoing sewage pollution.

“While the governor’s support is appreciated, we’re facing an urgent environmental and public health crisis that demands a comprehensive and time‐sensitive response,” said Aguirre.

The statement read that the deteriorating sewage treatment plant is “only part of the pollution crisis in the Tijuana River that has led to more than 600 days of beach closures along Southern California beaches.” 

During a California Coastal Commission meeting on Wednesday morning, several South Bay, Imperial Beach and Coronado residents voiced support to continue to urge Newsom to issue a state of emergency, which would accelerate federal funding.

Coronado resident Laura Wilkinson Sinton was among those calling for help saying “get emergency measures put in here immediately.”

Officials call for state of emergency

Aguirre and fellow commissioners discussed continued correspondence for effective ways to get access to funds more quickly.

“Whatever path we need to take… to make sure that all of the funding that’s necessary to go to the plant to really make an impact and see beach closure reduction days is what we’re supporting,” said Aguirre during the meeting.

FILE: Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre looks out to the Pacific Ocean earlier this year. The mayor has been outspoken to get a state of emergency declared to expedite federal funds to clean up the Tijuana sewage mess. Staff photo by Dennis Wagner.

The City of Imperial Beach, San Diego County and state and federal elected officials have formally asked the White House and Newsom to request a Federal Emergency Declaration for the pollution affecting the Tijuana River Valley and shorelines. Even children in Imperial Beach have sent letters to the president asking for help.

The time to act is now. We can’t afford further delays.”

-Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre.

“What we need now is a State of Emergency declaration from both state and federal government to secure the substantial funding and agency coordination required to implement a comprehensive solution to this crisis,” Aguirre said. “The time to act is now. We can’t afford further delays – our environment and public health are at stake.”

More News

Julieta is a reporter for The Coronado News, covering education, small business and investigating the Tijuana/Coronado sewage issue. She graduated from UC Berkeley where she studied English, Spanish, and Journalism. Apart from reporting, Julieta enjoys reading, traveling, and spending quality time with family and friends.

Madeline Yang is a reporter for The Coronado News, covering the City of Coronado, the U.S Navy and investigating the Tijuana/Coronado sewage issue. She graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University with her Bachelors in Journalism with an emphasis in Visual Storytelling. She loves writing, photography and videography and one day hopes to be a filmmaker. She can be reached by phone at 916-835-5843.