Mexican Military Takes Over Broken Tijuana Sewage Plant Rehab

January 26, 2024

Mexico is now working to replace their wastewater treatment plant. This project will provide relief, but the U.S. must match their level of urgency on this environmental disaster. Congressman Peters is fighting for $310 million to be included in any upcoming spending deal.

Read more about it in this January 11th piece from Voice of San Diego, posted below:

Mexican Military Takes Over Broken Tijuana Sewage Plant Rehab

By MacKenzie Elmer and Vicente Calderón

January 11, 2024

The Mexican military is taking over reconstruction of a broken wastewater treatment plant in Tijuana that pollutes southern San Diego beaches in summertime.

It’s the latest infrastructure project Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is entrusting to the military to complete, like Tren Maya, a new massive railway looping the Yucatan peninsula and a new airport in Mexico City. Now that list of projects includes Punta Bandera, a Tijuana wastewater plant that has been broken since at least 2014, which spews untreated sewage into the Pacific Ocean just six miles south of the U.S. border.

Fixing Punta Bandera, also known as San Antonio de los Buenos, is a growing priority in the decades-long Tijuana River sewage crisis. Recent research by Scripps Institution of Oceanography linked the sewage pouring from that plant to swimmer illnesses during the summer in Imperial Beach, San Diego’s southernmost coastal city.

“That plant if and when fixed … would eliminate 100 percent of our beach closures during the summer months,” said Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre during a Dec. 1 forum held by the local League of Women Voters.

The military takeover is welcome news to the governor of Baja California, Marina Del Pilar Ávila, who announced last month that SEDENA, the Secretary of National Defense, would take over the project.

“The president told us not to worry, we put it in the hands of our friends, SEDENA, which has done extraordinary things throughout the country and this plant will be no exception,” Pilar Ávila said at a Dec. 27 press conference.

Mexico pledged $144 million in 2022 under a treaty with the U.S. to fix a bunch of its broken wastewater infrastructure including Punta Bandera. The plant, which sits atop a mesa next to the coastline, is basically three giant ponds full of old wastewater that regularly flush into the Pacific Ocean. Victor Manuel Barragan, Pilar Ávila’s secretary of water, recently said the state was already working to dry out those lagoons.

The leader of the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission, Maria Elena Giner, during that same forum, signaled the military takeover was “good news” in that it meant a more secure source of funding to rehabilitate the plant. But 2024 is a presidential election year. López Obrador has termed out of the office he assumed in 2018. Whoever takes his place in the June election could reshuffle all of his priorities.

Giner said she was told it would still take about two years for the military to build the plant. But Fernando Aguado, a SEDENA engineer, on Thursday committed to having it done by September of this year.

The military takeover is the latest in a series of attempts to rectify Punta Bandera. Plans for a private Israeli company to partner with the Mexican government to rebuild the plant languished for years. The company, Odis Asversa, wanted to recycle that wastewater into irrigation for Baja California’s famous but thirsty vineyards in Valle de Guadalupe.

Fabian Yañez, a spokesman for the Israeli water company, told Voice of San Diego in 2021 that the company planned to pay the Mexican government for the sewage, treat it and sell it to grape growers for a profit. But the company struggled to get farmers to agree on a price for that water, which they otherwise pump from groundwater wells or purchase cheaply.

Francisco “Kiko” Vega, Baja California’s governor from 2013 to 2019, signed the initial contract with Odis Asversa to sell treated wastewater. The next governor, Jaime Bonilla, announced in 2021 that his administration got approval for funding to fix the plant. Then Pilar Ávila, who used the Punta Bandera sewage spilling into the ocean as a backdrop for her gubernatorial campaign, promised clean beaches.

It’s still unclear if recycling wastewater would be part of the military-built plant. But Baja California’s cities could certainly use it. The drought-stricken Colorado River is Tijuana’s only drinking water source. Wells are drying up further south toward Ensenada. And many Baja Californians experienced water shutoffs at some point during the debilitating drought of the past few years.

Since Tuesday, about 60 percent of Tijuana’s 1,000 neighborhoods had their water shut off while workers make repairs to another leak in the Florido-Aguaje aqueduct which distributes drinking water from the Colorado River to 60 percent of the city. Tijuana had to buy expensive emergency water from California when that aqueduct sprung a leak last January.

The U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, joined a groundbreaking ceremony at the Punta Bandera rehabilitation Thursday with Governor Pilar Ávila and Mayor Aguirre. He said solutions to the Tijuana River crisis can’t be solved on the U.S. side alone, referring to another broken and underfunded wastewater treatment border plant in San Diego that President Joe Biden has targeted in his budget requests.



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