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San Diego lawmakers free up border pollution funding

Persistent pollution on the San Diego County coast may be a step closer to cleanup, after two San Diego lawmakers fixed language to allow the U.S. Protection Agency to transfer $300 million to the International Boundary and Water Commission for wastewater treatment.

Reps. Sara Jacobs and Juan Vargas included provisions in the House State and Foreign Operations bill to authorize the funding transfer, which has been stalled since 2019.

The money was authorized as part of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, but legal provisions in the treaty’s language prevented the funds from being sent to the commission.

The language fix allows the EPA and commission “to work together to address a problem that has gone on for far too long,” said Jacobs, D-San Diego. “This is an important step forward in providing a safer and healthier community for San Diegans and our cross-border neighbors.”

Cross-border pollution has plagued the Tijuana and Southern San Diego region for decades, creating human illness and environmental damage.

Surfers and swimmers near Imperial Beach have long complained of foul smells and illnesses during summer, and a study published by Scripps Institution of Oceanography this year found that the likely culprit is norovirus, a waterborne pathogen in untreated wastewater drifting northward from a dilapidated sewage treatment plant in Mexico.

In addition, the Tijuana River carries untreated wastewater, trash, and sediment in stormwater from Mexico across the border into the United States.

The $300 million isn’t earmarked for specific projects but can be used for planning, study, design, and construction of wastewater treatment works, according to Jacobs’ and Vargas’ offices.

The State and Foreign Operations bill now moves to the House floor this month and then will move to the Senate floor later in the year for consideration. The Congress members hope it will be signed into law by the end of the year.

“This funding will allow federal and international government agencies to take meaningful action against harmful pollutants and ensure that we prioritize the health and safety of communities on both sides of the border,” said Vargas, D-San Diego.

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