tijuana sewage
Water passes from Tijuana to the International Wastewater Treatment Plant through a grated screen that helps catch trash. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

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Officials on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border haven’t quite figured out — and agreed on — why millions of gallons of sewage-laden water spilled for weeks and found its way into the Tijuana River on the San Diego side. 

But one thing is clear: something is clogging the system. 

U.S. officials believe the sewage escaped from a crack in a concrete pipe in Mexico that carries sewage from Tijuana to a U.S. treatment plant. Mexican officials deny that the pipe is the issue and believe the problem could be from something else. One of the possible culprits is an aging piece of infrastructure on the U.S. side that’s under investigation. 

In a new story, MacKenzie Elmer writes that the disagreement has drawn attention to an issue that those working along the border already know: The South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant in San Diego is in desperate need of repair. More specifically, a trench in the ground that controls the flow of wastewater from Mexico to the U.S. treatment plant has a broken gate and other damages. 

The binational agency that works on border water treaties has until the end of January to submit repair plans. But getting the job done on an international boundary has its challenges. 

U.S. officials are trying to figure out what can be done, and how much money is required to do it. Meanwhile the gates are still broken.  

Click here to read Elmer’s story.

All About That Trash

Trash at the Otay Landfill on Dec. 10, 2021. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

What a trashy month it has been. 

A new state law went into effect forcing cities to cut down on food waste in landfills. We’ll soon be required to recycle food waste like meat, bones, veggie scraps and citrus peels. And in other waste-related news, you probably heard about trash that piled up around town. Sanitation workers at Republic Services staged a month-long strike while bargaining for better wages and better work.

For the latest Environment Report, Elmer took stock of the county’s landfill capacity. One of the region’s major landfills, Otay Landfill owned by Republic Services, is scheduled to close in 2030, while another is expected to have capacity for at least another 30 years.

Click here to read more.

Omicron Wave Halts Most City Shelter Intakes

Most city shelters still aren’t taking in homeless San Diegans amid a continuing spike in coronavirus cases.

The Housing Commission reported 39 positive results among residents and staff at shelters operated by Father Joe’s Villages and Alpha Project late last week. That’s on top of 128 positives the city reported in the previous three weeks as the omicron wave hit the region, a surge that late last month inspired a scramble to isolate people staying in packed shelters due to a lack of county-backed hotel rooms typically used for that purpose.

At a Monday City Council committee hearing, Housing Commission Executive Vice President Lisa Jones said the city and service providers set up 99 temporary isolation beds after county hotel rooms hit capacity in late December as hospitals also scrambled to secure isolation spaces for discharging patients.

Jones said more shelter residents are now moving into county hotel rooms.

The county reported late Monday that 140 shelter residents have moved temporarily into isolation hotels since Dec. 27. As of Saturday, 98 of the 137 rooms the county had available for that purpose were filled, though the county has noted that vacant rooms aren’t “necessarily staffed and ready for occupancy.”

Hafsa Kaka, who leads the city’s Homelessness Strategies and Solutions Department, said Monday that the city and county are now meeting twice weekly to discuss their collective isolation capacity, the latest COVID guidance and how to keep shelter residents safe.

For now, Jones said, federal guidance suggests shelters should halt intakes if they have three or more positive cases. That has meant that Father Joe’s and Alpha Project, which each operate multiple city shelters, have been unable to welcome newcomers for weeks.

For now, Jones said, only Alpha Project’s harm reduction shelter focused on serving people with behavioral health challenges in Midway and PATH’s downtown shelter have been able to take in some clients.

Jones said she is hopeful additional city shelters can start welcoming new clients soon and that she expects to give the go-ahead for service providers to work overtime to move more people in quickly when that happens. She acknowledged reopening shelters to newcomers could create its own COVID concerns, but said the county has made clear that city shelters are following all necessary protocols to keep residents safe.

“We’ve had no direction that we need to do something differently than we’re doing it,” Jones said. “It’s simply a reflection of the broader community, unfortunately.”

In Other News

  • Less than a week after a photojournalist was killed in Tijuana, another was shot to death outside their home Sunday. Journalist Lourdes Maldonado López was found dead in her car, the Union-Tribune reported. Maldonado had recently attended and spoken at a vigil for Margarito Martínez Esquivel, who died Monday last week. So far this year three journalists have been killed in Mexico. 
  • San Diego’s child care centers are dealing with massive staffing shortage — something brought on both by the pandemic and an overall labor trend in the industry. In a new series, KPBS looked into pay disparities and other issues affecting local child care providers.
  • Police in Escondido and La Mesa continue to illegally share license plate data with agencies outside of the state, reports inewsource.
  • San Diego Unified will hold a public forum next month to give the public time to hear from its two superintendent finalists. (Union-Tribune)
  • Bloomberg featured the $400 million Ponzi scheme that shook some in San Diego.

The Morning Report was written by Andrea Lopez-Villafaña, Lisa Halverstadt and Megan Wood.

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