tijuana sewage
The Tijuana River which flows throughout the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego. / File photo by Adriana Heldiz

There’s a gap in the latest and tallest version of the U.S.-Mexico border wall where Tijuana meets San Diego, and through it flows the sewage- and trash-blighted Tijuana River.  

U.S. Homeland Security announced May 27 they’re “closing that gap” by building the border wall across the river. The federal agency proposed a similar project in 2020 that never moved forward. That project entailed building a 20-foot-wide roadway with a series of gates below, which would open when the river is raging during the rainy season, or during an unexpected sewage spill or broken water main in Mexico.  

Proposed design of a border wall crossing the Tijuana River into San Diego, 2020. / CBP

Homeland Security said the gate would “address safety concerns resulting from the polluted conditions of the river channel.” But this gap in the wall is also where, in 2018, hundreds of Central Americans crossed the concrete channel of the Tijuana River during a confrontation with U.S. officials, prompting agents to deploy tear gas. It led to a border shutdown.  

Homeland Security is framing the project as pollution control, but the most vocal local politician on Tijuana River pollution isn’t excited.  

“Sure, we welcome improving national security but what’s the cost and is it really feasible,” said Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina.  

He’s concerned the project will delay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s $630 million docket of projects to help stop sewage and trash spilling from Tijuana into San Diego and into the ocean, effectively closing Southern California beaches. The first of those projects is an expansion of a treatment plant at the border that currently can clean only a portion of waste that makes its way across the border.  

“Anything the EPA has to deal with that’s not in that comprehensive plan takes time and money away from us,” Dedina said.  

It appears the Homeland Security project is basically greenlighted and ready to be built. The agency, in its press release, said work is estimated “to begin quickly through existing contract vehicles,” and already has funding to spend from appropriations from years past.  

Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment. 

David Gibson, executive officer of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, said Congress exempted all border projects from having to comply with any state or federal laws in the early 2000s.  

A September 2020 letter from the California EPA and state Natural Resources Agency, responding to Homeland Security’s first proposal of a wall extension across the river, raised concerns. Jared Blumenfeld and Wade Crowfoot, secretaries of those respective agencies, warned such a border wall could impede the EPA’s planned projects to clean up the polluted Tijuana River with money from the newly-signed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement; would be exposed to damaging flash flooding; and encourage illegal crossings like other similar types of gates and grates over canyon passes along the border. 

“The border wall would offer minimal security benefits, which its adverse environmental impacts would greatly outweigh,” they wrote.  

In Other News

  • Gone are the days when toilets flushed straight to the ocean. That sewage is now a commodity, a drinking water resource in the world of California drought. Now San Diego is fighting over it. 
  • Speaking of sewage, contaminated water flowing from the Tijuana River over the international border is closing beaches again as far as Coronado. (Times of San Diego) 
  • Oceanside is joining northern San Diego County’s government-run power purchasing agency, Clean Energy Alliance. (Union-Tribune) 
  • It’s a national epidemic and San Diego isn’t spared. Public pools are under threat of closure if a lifeguard shortage isn’t filled. (CBS 8)  
  • Remember in 2020 when voters said it was OK for the Midway District to build higher than the 30-foot coastal height limit? Well, voters may be asked that same question this November. (Union-Tribune) 
  • The city wants to put something before voters that would scrap a 103-year-old law that prevents the city from charging most single-family homeowners a fee for trash pick-up. (Union-Tribune) 
  • Activists blocked doors at Sempra’s San Diego headquarters last week over the fossil fuel company’s record profits despite worsening global warming. Sempra argues it’s committed to decarbonizing. (KPBS) 
  • The leader of California’s powerful Coastal Commission hints that managed retreat, or moving critical infrastructure inland and off the crumbling coast, will be needed as sea level rises. (Union-Tribune) 
  • San Diego Gas & Electric is launching a microgrid in Campo with solar panels and flow batteries to help keep parts of the desert town powered during power outages. (Union-Tribune) 
  • Cars idling for hours waiting to cross from Tijuana into San Diego produced 2,730 pounds of planet-warming carbon dioxide per day in 2016, a number that’s likely higher now. That’s bad news for a warming planet.  
  • Some experts say the best strategy for reducing wildfire risk is to build fire-hardened homes and clear large areas of defensible space around them. (LA Times) 
  • How’s this for drought news: While Californians tear out lawns for desert scape amid worsening aridification, some farmers may switch to tequila — swapping water-thirsty crops for agave.  (POLITICO) 
  • Water shut offs are so common in Tijuana, creative conservation is a way of life. Yet its citizens feel the cuts are more frequent and last longer. Mexico is legally entitled to 1.5-million-acre feet of Colorado River water per year. Tijuana gets about 3-4 percent of that, but demand has maxed-out supply. 

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1 Comment

  1. though the story doesn’t give a price tag for this project i’ll bet it’s outlandish.
    extending the border wall across the river is a solution without a problem; that one incident was the only time a barrier has been needed. btw, the rendering looks more like a bike path than a barrier.

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