Trash is piled near the U.S.-Mexico border, where sewage from Tijuana flows through. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law last week a bill that will require the state’s Environmental Protection Agency to create a Watershed Action Plan for the Tijuana River Valley.

The new state law is one of many recent efforts to reduce exposure to dangerous pathogens, limit beach closures and address water quality issues in the area.

The bill, which was written by state Sen. Ben Hueso, also aims to address some of the binational challenges in managing the watershed. The plan that the California EPA is putting together will create a framework for how California can work with the Mexican and U.S. governments.

Because the watershed is binational, both countries need to coordinate to fix the problem. In a press release, Hueso said his bill, SB 1301, seeks to address the complicated nature of multiple agencies and governments working together by creating a framework and a mitigation program they can all agree to, addressing their common problems, like sewage runoffs in Tijuana.

The ongoing binational water issue has also recently erupted in a public spat between Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina, and Baja California Gov. Jaime Bonilla.

Bonilla has held three press conferences this month demanding Dedina apologize for publicly criticizing Mexico’s inability to stop sewage from flowing into the United States, the Union-Tribune reports.

Bonilla has said that his administration has already fixed the cross-border sewage issue by repairing broken pumps and clearing trash along the Tijuana River Valley. Indeed, fixing the pumps has had a significant positive impact, as the U-T points out: There haven’t been cross-border sewage flows in recent weeks and Imperial Beach shoreline has remained open for the longest continuous amount of time since the pumps stopped working in November 2019.

But Dedina has pointed out in response that Tijuana’s overburdened sewage system continues to discharge contaminated water from a pump station six miles south of the border, the U-T reports. Until that is fixed, according to Dedina, the cross-border sewage flows will continue.

The International Boundary and Water Commission also published a Tijuana River water quality study last week. Between December 2018 and November 2019, scientists from the United States and Mexico collected samples from a total of seven transboundary channels in the Tijuana River Basin and compared the results against both California and Mexico water quality standards. Levels of ammonia, oils and greases, phosphorus, nitrates, coliform bacteria and several substances associated with the presence of wastewater exceeded limits set in both countries.

The report says that many of the substances may be from sewage spills from Tijuana, the disposal of solid waste and trash, and potentially even plastic that has accumulated in the canyons and Tijuana River. It also includes several recommendations to better control industrial wastewater discharges in Tijuana, increase resources and assistance for wastewater collection and treatment in Tijuana and continued joint water quality monitoring.

The Border Wall Saga Continues

The Trump administration is racing to build the president’s border wall ahead of the Nov. 3 election, with construction crews now adding nearly two miles per day, the Washington Post reports. The latest figures from U.S. Customs and Border Protection show the rate of construction has nearly doubled since the beginning of the year.

A federal appeals court revived a challenge to President Donald Trump’s use of Defense Department money to build the wall after Democrats refused to provide funding he requested, the Associated Press reports.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed a lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit from House Democrats, according to the AP. The appellate court said the House was cut out of its “constitutionally indispensable legislative role” when Trump unilaterally moved about $8 billion for border wall construction.

  • Federal agents forced Kumeyaay Nation activists to leave their protest occupation camp near border wall construction, and arrested two people. Both protesters were released from custody later that day and neither was charged with a crime. (KPBS)
  • Photographer John Kurc traveled from Zapata, Texas, to San Diego documenting the border wall’s construction and its environmental impact. (KJZZ)

More Border News

  • Family members of people missing throughout Mexico have been risking their own safety to search for their relatives, and have formed groups both for protection and for political purposes. In Baja California, parent groups have located the bodies of 109 missing people so far in 2020 — all buried in clandestine gravesites in rural hillsides across the state. (Union-Tribune)
  • Five businesses in Tijuana have had operations suspended for not complying with coronavirus protocols. (Zeta)
  • After coming under fire for a large COVID-19 outbreak at Otay Mesa Detention Center, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has contracted out medical care at the facility to the private prison company that owns and operates it, but detainees tell the Union-Tribune that the care has grown even worse.
  • At the end of one of his daily live broadcasts about the coronavirus pandemic, Bonilla attacked former Gov. Ernesto Ruffo Appel and accused him being involved with organized crime when he led the state. (El Sol de Tijuana)
  • The music documentary “Fandango at the Wall,” which features a 2018 concert held concurrently on the Tijuana side of the U.S.-Mexico border and at San Diego’s adjacent Friendship Park, premiered on HBO Latino and now can be streamed on HBO Max. (Union-Tribune)
  • The illegal construction of a natural gas pipeline in Baja California is being investigated by ASEA, Mexico’s safety, energy and environment regulator. (ContraRéplica)
  • The launch of KPBS’s Port of Entry podcast, which features local cross-border stories, will be celebrated virtually later in October with a night of live storytelling, a special border-inspired cocktail recipe to make at home and a border music playlist.

Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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