Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis Tours San Diego County and Tijuana River Valley Impacted by Ongoing Sewage Crisis 


Friday, October 13, 2023 (916) 445-8994

SACRAMENTO – This week, Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis and the California Coastal Commission toured the Tijuana River Valley to hear a status update on the ongoing cross-border pollution crisis from federal, state, and local government representatives and members of the community impacted by the pollution.  

Pollution from untreated sewage, trash, and toxic waste flowing through the Tijuana River watershed poses a serious, ongoing threat to public health, local economies, and the natural resources on both sides of the border. In recent years, poor water quality along beaches from the US-Mexico border to the cities of Imperial Beach, Coronado, and San Diego has prompted prolonged beach closures. Beaches along Border Field State Park near the border have been closed for over 650 consecutive days.  

Image of Lt. Governor at Tijuana River Valley

In recent years, Tijuana River pollution has worsened as the aging wastewater treatment infrastructure on both sides of the border has deteriorated and failed to keep up with population growth. On the U.S. side of the border, the South Bay International Treatment Plant (ITP) is in desperate need of repairs. Originally built in 1996, the ITP also needs upgrades to be able to process and treat the increased volume of wastewater.  

“The infrastructure that has existed here and that I saw four years ago is collapsing and driving the unacceptable public health and environmental crisis we see on both sides of the border,” said Lieutenant Governor Kounalakis. “I want to commend Imperial Beach Mayor and Commissioner Paloma Aguirre, Chair Donne Brownsey, and all the members of the Coastal Commission and staff for bringing much-needed attention and focus to this critical issue. There is still more work to be done and I look forward to continuing to work with the Coastal Commission and others to advance urgently needed solutions. 

Image of Tijuana River

During this week’s California Coastal Commission meeting, Commissioners called on the federal government for more support and to expedite repairs and construction of wastewater treatment infrastructure along the border. Commissioners agreed to reconvene In November during their next meeting to consider sending President Biden a letter urging his administration to utilize all avenues of funding and authority to streamline the repair and expansion of the ITP and other wastewater treatment infrastructure.   

Link to the full video of the California Coastal Commission meeting.  


BACKGROUND: The ITP has grappled with operational and maintenance difficulties for an extended period and, in recent years, has faced a surge in wastewater. In 2020, the U.S. EPA secured $300 million to upgrade the facility and construct additional pollution control projects. However, since 2020, the volume of wastewater and the associated maintenance costs have continued to rise. 

In response to the efforts led by Governor Gavin Newsom, congressional representatives, and various state and local officials, the federal government has committed to rehabilitating and enlarging a federal wastewater treatment facility. This commitment is in direct response to the persistent sewage crisis along the San Diego County coastline, primarily caused by the Tijuana River. In September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) committed to initiate a significant overhaul and expansion of the South Bay ITP in San Ysidro.