Residents and Officials Call for Faster Action on Tijuana-San Diego Wastewater Problem | Nation / World

SAN DIEGO – Lillian Burkhart, resident of Chula Vista and Lifeguard at Imperial Beach, still remembers the sting on her skin after surfing the waters of Imperial Beach one day last summer. Within 24 hours, she fell ill with a gastrointestinal infection, she said.

“As the day went by after I left the water, I could really smell it. It was spicy. It smelled like sewage, ”she said. “The next day I woke up feeling bad and vomited for 12 hours straight. I have never been so sick in my whole life.

Burkhart’s experience is mundane and reminiscent of the decades-long struggle to cope with recurring Tijuana sewage spills that pollute the coastline of the South Bay area of ​​San Diego County.

Environmental Protection Agency officials said last week that they had launched an environmental review process for 10 infrastructure projects intended to address the problem. They also approved a pilot project for a rapid test that will measure the levels of bacteria in the water.

The agency is asking the public to submit comments on the plans by May 20, said Julia Giarmoleo, press secretary for the agency’s region 9.

“This is a critical step in the overall process of implementing specific projects to address these serious long-standing issues and we want you to know that we are trying to move this process forward as quickly as possible,” a said Dave Smith, director of the water division for Region 9, at a public scoping meeting on April 20 on the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act. The meeting did not address the issues and concerns regarding the issue of transboundary wastewater.

The agency plans to use the $ 300 million allocated under the 2019 US-Mexico-Canada Accord for the 10 projects, which include the construction of a water diversion system north of the border.

The EPA also announced last week that it had approved a pilot rapid bacteria test to assess bacteria in San Diego County beach water, which was developed by the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project and the State Department of Public Health. Using the digital test, county beach managers will be able to provide same-day beach water quality advisories, officials said.

Imperial Beach mayor Serge Dedina, who has criticized the federal government and its handling of pollution, said the pilot project would “be a game-changer” in the city’s ability to open or close its beaches more quickly . In 2020, the shore was closed for almost 300 days, with sewage flowing into the Pacific Ocean.

Others said they wanted the EPA to evolve with more of a sense of urgency.

“(President Joe) Biden has hit 100 days in office and personally I haven’t really heard much about it. The EPA seems to be moving forward, but I would like it to change a lot. faster, ”Imperial said. Shannon Johnson, beach resident, member of the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation, who has been tracking bacteria levels in the water to provide information on water quality to the public.

She and other residents also formed the South Bay Clean Water Movement in 2017. The group launched awareness campaigns on the sewage discharge, collecting thousands of community letters urging state and federal elected officials to act.

“The EPA under the Trump administration has made a lot of progress over the past four years and I expect the Biden administration will build on that progress and lead it to the finish line. is a non-partisan issue with broad support, so I’m confident it will be done, ”Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey said.

There is hope that help is on the way, but local officials have said the concern is that no federal agency is taking a formal leadership role.

“This is our No. 1 problem,” said San Diego councilor Vivian Moreno, whose District 8 includes San Ysidro and the Tijuana River Valley, who highlighted the efforts of Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla to do just that.

In March, senators introduced the Border Water Quality Restoration and Protection Act that would designate the EPA as the lead agency and require it to coordinate all federal, state and local agencies to build and maintain infrastructure.

“The people of Southern California have been forced to suffer as different federal agencies continue to pass the buck. This bill will end the confusion by giving the EPA the responsibility to coordinate efforts and resolve the issue. problem, “Feinstein said in a prepared statement. .

(c) 2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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Copyright 2021 Tribune content agency.

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