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San Diego County Leaders Demand State of Emergency in Tijuana River Valley Pollution Crisis

-Editorial

Unified in their fight against the escalating environmental, public health, and economic crisis in the Tijuana River Valley, South Bay leaders are urgently calling on the State of California to declare a State of Emergency and for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to intervene.

At a press conference held on June 4, prominent figures including Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre, Port of San Diego Vice Chair Danielle Moore, Coronado Councilman John Duncan, Dr. Paula Stigler Granados of San Diego State University’s School of Public Health, and Lauren Cazares from the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce appealed for immediate state and federal action. The crisis is acutely impacting South Bay communities such as Imperial Beach, Nestor, San Ysidro, the Tijuana River Valley, Egger Highlands, South Chula Vista, and Otay Mesa West.

Mayor Aguirre emphasized the urgency, stating, “The State can wield its powers to attack this triple threat. California has influence, means, and expertise. We are asking our Governor to declare a state of emergency to accelerate the diversion and treatment of the Tijuana River, the primary source of pollution to our south San Diego communities. Without a state of emergency, we are five to ten years out before we see relief. The funding for the treatment plant was a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t solve our core source of pollution.”

Vice Chair Danielle Moore highlighted the dire consequences of inaction. “The stakes are high in the South Bay and we cannot afford to have this crisis drag on with no end in sight. The polluted and toxic sewage flows coming through the Tijuana River Valley are noxious. They are contaminating the water, soil, and air. It’s sickening San Diegans, threatening jobs, hurting businesses, and harming recreation. Lives and livelihoods are at stake.”

Lauren Cazares of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce called for a bipartisan response. “The severity of this crisis demands immediate, bipartisan action to safeguard our communities’ health, well-being, and economic stability. We implore Governor Newsom to intervene decisively by requesting Epidemic Aid from the Centers for Disease Control to assess and monitor the health impacts on our communities.”

Since the onset of the crisis, more than 100 billion gallons of untreated sewage, toxic chemicals, trash, sediment, and other pollutants have flowed into the Tijuana River Valley and out into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Imperial Beach. This has caused serious public health issues, including polluted waters and airborne toxins, ongoing beach closures in Imperial Beach and Coronado—over 900 days and counting—and significant negative impacts on the South Bay economy.

Current treatment plants, under the jurisdiction of both the U.S. and Mexican federal governments, struggle with failing and aging infrastructure. While Mexico is working on replacing the broken Punta Bandera Treatment Plant in Tijuana, the U.S. has provided funding for short-term repairs to the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant. However, long-term solutions, including plant improvements, expansion, and U.S.-side river diversion projects, require additional funding, urgency, and expedited federal planning processes to meet the federal government’s obligations under the binational Minute 328 agreement.

An emergency declaration by California would mobilize several state agencies, including the California Coastal Commission, California Department of Public Health, California Environmental Protection Agency, California State Water Board, California Air Resources Board, Office of the State Public Health Officer, Department of Toxic Substances Control, and the California-Mexico Border Relations Council, to enlist their federal counterparts and ensure a coordinated and comprehensive response to the ongoing disaster.

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