Immigrating Sewage – The Borders Dirty Little Secret

6 02 2007

Cross posted from Liberally Conservative

The Wall Street Journals “Washington Wire” (subscription) reports:

The White House, stepping into a controversy over cross-border pollution from Mexico, asked Congress for $71.7 million to enhance treatment of sewage drifting from Tijuana to communities in Southern California if a plan to use a private contractor falls through.

Until 2000, the U.S. had planned to expand treatment of sewage from Tijuana at an existing government-owned treatment plant on the border in San Ysidro, Calif. The intent was to help stem pollution from raw sewage causing frequent beach closures and damage to a wildlife estuary on the U.S. side.

As reported in a Jan. 29 Wall Street Journal front-page story, a group of Southern California lawmakers was able to cut off funding for that plan and instead helped a start-up company, Bajagua LLC, a generous contributor to their campaigns, obtain a no-bid contract to build an entirely new plant on the Mexican side of the border.

Bajagua recently has missed crucial deadlines spelled out in its contract, including for obtaining land, permits and financing. The White House proposal, part of the President’s 2008 budget plan, would expand treatment at the San Ysidro plant if Bajagua fails to meet the quirements by May 2.

As the Mexican border city of Tijuana has grown, so too has the amount of sewage Tijuana produces and sends downhill toward its neighbors to the north. Among the worst-affected areas is Imperial Beach, Calif., which suffered beach closures on 177 days in 2005 and 198 days in 2006 on account of health hazards from the contamination.

At sea level, coastal southern San Diego County lies at the bottom of a drainage system that originates in the Baja California mountains in Mexico, feeds into the Tijuana River, flows through the heart of Tijuana, and moves down into the ocean near Imperial Beach, in the foreground. Hillside slums on the outskirts of Tijuana can be seen in the background. Less than 60% of Tijuana’s sewage now is being treated at all, and that only to minimal levels.

For decades, limited efforts to treat the waste have lagged far behind growing volume. Even after light rainfall, raw sewage flows down the canyons from Tijuana.

Most of the houses in Tijuana’s hillside slums, or colonias, have latrines with above-ground plastic pipes running across the small front yards to the road, and discharging the contents into the road. The dirt roads, even in the dry season, all have gullies etched in the middle with raw sewage flowing downhill.

As it passes through Tijuana, the river picks up raw human waste, battery acid, old tires, household garbage and toxic chemicals.

The pollution has badly affected the Tijuana estuary, a 2,531-acre U.S. wildlife reserve, sandwiched between the border and Imperial Beach, through which the Tijuana River empties into the ocean. A botany professor who has studied the estuary’s ecology says polluted sediments have eliminated clams, sand dollars, and many fish species from the estuary and adjacent ocean bed.

Birds on the endangered species list, such as the light-footed clapper rail, have been harmed, and some plants native to the Tijuana estuary have been killed off. A rare species of pickleweed is now extinct.

Politicians provide a company with a “no-bid” contract as payback for political contributions and the Fed’s will have to bail out the problem. The new budget proposal for the first time would make funds available for additions to the San Ysidro plant if the Bajagua project falls through.

This was a production of The Coalition Against Illegal Immigration
(CAII).

If you would like to participate, please go to the above link to learn more. Afterwards, email the coalition and let us know at what level you would like to participate.

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