A tributary near the U.S.-Mexico border where sewage from Tijuana flows through. / File photo by Adriana Heldiz

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Rep. Scott Peters represents California’s 52nd Congressional district which includes Coronado, Poway and most of the City of San Diego. He is running for re-election in the newly drawn 50th Congressional district which encompasses Coronado, coastal San Diego, San Marcos and southern Escondido.

For years, federal, state and local leaders have struggled to piece together adequate funding to tackle the multi-faceted, decades-old problem of highly contaminated wastewater seeping across the U.S. Mexico border and fouling the Tijuana River Valley. This, coupled with coastlines in Imperial Beach and Coronado polluted by untreated sewage that flows north from an antiquated treatment plant in Baja California, has led to what I call one of the biggest environmental catastrophes in the Western Hemisphere. 

When I arrived in Congress in 2013, funding for the Border Water Infrastructure Program (BWIP) – the federal fund designated to tackle cross-border pollution – had fallen to just $5 million per year. Working with my Congressional colleagues, we’ve been able to increase that pot of money over the years to what is now a $35 million annual appropriation. Altogether, over the years, we’ve been able to secure about $122 million toward BWIP. Still, this was not nearly enough to fund real, long-term solutions to this enormous problem. 

That’s why in 2019, when the entire San Diego Congressional delegation, along with our two U.S. Senators, worked together to secure $300 million as part of the United States Mexico Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA), it was a massive victory. Finally, real money to provide real solutions. 

A recent opinion piece regarding these funds written by Escondido resident Corey Gustafson, who is challenging my reelection, had two glaring errors that require correction. 

Gustafson wrote that after securing the $300 million, the San Diego members of Congress, “proclaimed the problem fixed.” That’s false, and Gustafson provided no sourcing for this made up statement. Not one member of San Diego’s congressional delegation has ever declared it fixed. The opposite is true. The designation of these funds allowed us to double down on our work to find the bi-lateral solutions to fix this bi-national problem. 

Once this real money was identified, I brought EPA Administrator Michael Regan to San Diego to see this catastrophe first-hand and to hear from local leaders about its devastating impacts. We pushed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) to expedite the engineering analysis and design and environmental review. They have since developed thoughtful options, presented them to the public, solidified a plan and secured agreements with Mexico to do its part.

In August, I joined officials from the U.S. and Mexico at a signing ceremony for a binding binational agreement that commits $330 million from the U.S. government and $144 million from the Mexican government to fund projects on both sides of the border that will cut the number of transboundary flows in half and reduce by 80 percent the volume of untreated wastewater discharged at the wastewater plant in Baja California I mentioned earlier. These projects are expected to be complete and operational by 2027. 

Gustafson also wrote, “as of today, three years later, San Diego has yet to see a penny of that money.” This is also false. 

To date, the EPA has used existing authority to allow transfer of an initial portion of the USMCA money to IBWC to fund design, planning and environmental review of the vast suite of projects recommended to halt the pollution. About $3.5 million of the USMCA money has been spent on this work. 

And earlier this month, the EPA and the U.S. Section of the IBWC announced a $4.6 million contract to a U.S. company to “lay the groundwork to double the size of the South Bay International Treatment Plant in San Diego” which currently treats 25 million gallons a day of wastewater from Tijuana. This money will also come from the USMCA pot.

While the expansion of the ITP is important, it isn’t the only thing in the suite of proposed projects needed. There are several (almost entirely in Mexico) that are shovel ready to go. 

Those projects include collectors, interceptors and pumping stations that are old, broken, and lacking capacity to meet current demand. These projects can be completed sooner and will make a big difference. 

Do we all wish all of these could be done tomorrow? Of course. But these are massive projects complicated by the fact that they are occurring in two separate countries. Is our work over? Of course, not. It’s ongoing and Mayors Serge Dedina of Imperial Beach, Richard Bailey of Coronado, and Todd Gloria of San Diego, as well as County Supervisors and state legislators have been valuable partners in this progress.

All of us share the frustration of our constituents about the cross border contamination. All of us are encouraged that we are in a better spot to address this issue in the near term and long term than we’ve ever been before. And all of us are fully committed to seeing this through. 

Scott Peters

Rep. Scott Peters represents California's 52nd Congressional district which includes Coronado, Poway and most of the City of San Diego. He serves on the...

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