Group: Plan Needed for Border Sewage Issues

San Diego Coastkeeper has called for a comprehensive plan to address border sewage contamination as expeditiously as possible.

"Inadequately treated sewage and untreated 'fugitive' flows pose a significant environmental, health, and economic threat to communities on both sides of the border as well as the Tijuana Estuary," noted San Diego Coastkeeper's Executive Director Bruce Reznik. "Addressing this problem warrants the greatest possible response from local, state and federal officials."

Coastkeeper's position comes in response to the U.S. General Accountability Office Border Wastewater Treatment report (GAO-08-595R), which was prepared pursuant to federal legislation authored by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. The report assesses two alternate strategies for addressing sewage that flows between Southern California and Northern Baja California: the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plan and Bajagua.

According to Reznik, "The GAO report is not the comprehensive assessment of border sewage treatment strategies that is needed to address this chronic problem. It would be impossible to use this report to justify moving ahead with any particular project." By the agency's own admission, the GAO report does not:

1. Independently assess Tijuana's current or future wastewater treatment needs or the extent to which each proposal addresses those needs;

2. Assess whether Bajagua, LLC could develop the capacity to reclaim and sell water from its proposed plant and whether such sales would reduce costs to the federal government;

3. Assess the extent to which untreated or under-treated sewage from Mexico affects southern California, how these impacts vary between wet and dry periods, and the extent to which each project would address these impacts;

4. Assess the extent to which the International Boundary and Water Commission managed previous projects within their estimated costs or timeframes; or

5. Independently verify the cost or timeline information provided by the commission and Bajagua, LLC.

While Coastkeeper has not endorsed either project, the organization did indicate that highest priority for implementation should be given to projects that:

• Use best available sewage treatment and disposal technology;

• Will achieve secondary treatment standards as expeditiously as possible;

• Treat the greatest amount of current sewage flows and be expandable to handle projected flows; • Have the capability to reuse water to provide a valuable water resource to local communities;

• Be enforceable; and

• Have the support of the Mexican government and Mexican non-government organizations.

"These criteria are crucial to ensure that any project developed serves the best interest of communities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border," added Reznik.

Coastkeeper also called for a comprehensive assessment that evaluates all strategies to reduce sewage flows.

"Neither of the strategies addressed in the GAO report will, alone, fully address the border sewage problem," added Reznik. "Significant investment in Tijuana's sewage collection system as well as funding to remediate past damage done to the Tijuana River Valley and estuary is needed."

Coastkeeper estimates a comprehensive assessment, which evaluates all strategies to reduce sewage flows and recommends a preferred alternative, will take up to two years and cost between $300,000 and $500,000. The organization also called for aggressive efforts to build the capacity of environmental nonprofit organizations in Tijuana to support this assessment and work to help implement recommended projects once the assessment is completed.

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