A closed beach from Tijuana sewage contamination on Aug. 4, 2022. / MacKenzie Elmer
A closed beach from Tijuana sewage contamination on Aug. 4, 2022. / MacKenzie Elmer

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Corey Gustafson is a university lecturer, cofounder of Dogleg Brewing Co. and native San Diegan. He is running against Rep. Scott Peters to represent the 50th Congressional District.

On July 30, two pipelines running along Matadero Canyon in Tijuana ruptured due to a botched repair job. These pipelines, designed to carry wastewater to a treatment plant in San Antonio de los Buenos, instead spilled into Smuggler’s Gulch Canyon Collector just south of San Diego. Since the wastewater contained immense quantities of sediment, it was diverted to San Diego at the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant (SBIWTP). The SBIWTP could not handle the sheer amount of bilge.  The wastewater spilled into the ocean and landed on our beaches.

As a result, Coronado and Imperial Beach had to shut down their beaches on August 3.  As residents in these communities know all too well, both spills and shutdowns have negatively impacted their lifestyles for years.  Beaches continue to close due to high bacterial levels, including the Silver Strand shoreline.

For the last decade San Diegans have suffered illnesses by swimming and surfing in toxic water, and tourists, who come to spend their hard-earned money enjoying our southern beaches, well, they must often seek other alternatives.  The closures have frankly become too commonplace and our federal representatives too complacent to turn the toxic tide. Mexico’s failed attempts to fix its wastewater treatment plants, combined with its practice of jettisoning sewage into the Tijuana River and the open ocean, have led to the raft of beach closures. The crisis has worsened to the point where the South Bay treatment plant must now treat an astronomical 50 million gallons of wastewater from Mexico every day. 

In 2019, the United States and Mexico agreed to include $300 million in a trade agreement for the Water Board Infrastructure Program to repair wastewater and sewage treatment plants within San Diego and South Bay. Members of Congress took full credit for the potential influx of federal money and proclaimed the problem fixed in 2019.

As of today, three years later, San Diego has yet to see a penny of that money.

In a hapless bureaucratic maneuver that only Congress could envision, the law required that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) give permission to send the funds to the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC). Then- and only then- can San Diego County receive these already allocated funds to finally clean up our ocean.

Simply stated, Congress needs to approve transferring money from one government department account to another. By transferring these funds to the proper authority, the $300 million that has sat in a government bank account for three years can be used to help solve this crisis.

Instead of insisting that the aid be sent directly to the IBWC, Congress voted for legislative language that led to a three-year delay in sending badly needed funds to stop the pollution of our beaches.

This mess reflects the bureaucratic and legislative incompetence of the federal government in Washington DC.

One of the core reasons our federal government ceases to function properly stems from the fact that Congress has abdicated its oversight role as the branch of government that controls the purse strings of the federal budget. Instead of specifying how the money should be spent and allocating it to the proper authority quickly, Congress turned over the responsibly to the executive bureaucracy.  Now, Congress must pass yet another law to allow for the transfer of funds.

The pollution of our beaches has gone on for far too long. It is symbolic of government failure in San Diego, California and Washington D.C. We see the failure of our government to provide basic services all the time. From rolling blackouts, to a lack of water infrastructure in California, out-of-control homelessness, and a failure to protect our beaches from sewage, San Diegans can only take so much.

If we don’t change broken leadership, what incentive do our representatives have to do better?

San Diegans are tired of excuses from career politicians. We must hold our representatives accountable at the ballot box for failing to address our concerns if we want to see problems solved.

Corey Gustafson

Corey Gustafson is a university lecturer, cofounder of Dogleg Brewing Co. and native San Diegan. He is running against Rep. Scott Peters to represent the...

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