Supervisors Lawson-Remer, Vargas urge federal emergency following July 4 beach closures

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As communities across the nation celebrated Independence Day with BBQs and beach days, San Diego County leaders are decrying that the Fourth of July marked the 569th consecutive day of beach closures in the region due to toxic sewage runoff flowing into the ocean from Tijuana.

San Diego County Supervisors Chairwoman Nora Vargas and Vice Chair Terra Lawson-Remer on June 27 declared the first-ever State of Emergency on Tijuana Sewage and called on the Biden Administration to declare a federal emergency.

Following the vote, San Diego County’s Assembly and state Senate delegation wrote to Gov. Gavin Newsom requesting the state of California join the emergency declaration and the region’s Congressional representatives elevated this request directly to Biden.

Move follows The News investigation

The move by elected officials comes after The Coronado News earlier this year published a five-part investigative series that examined the decades of broken promises by political leaders to fix the sewage crisis that has hurt local economies and sickened residents, U.S. Border Patrol agents and Navy SEALS.

Meanwhile, the United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission is inviting the public to a meeting regarding the health crisis at the Coronado Community Center on July 12. The two-hour meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Triton Room at 1845 Strand Way.

Vargas represents the border communities in South County including Imperial Beach, while Lawson-Remer represents over 30 miles of San Diego County’s coastline from Carlsbad to Coronado, which has been highly impacted by the transboundary pollution.

2,500 petition signatures

Vargas and Lawson-Remer on June 5 added to the voices of over 2,500 county residents who signed a petition calling on federal action from Biden, in a statement issued by the county.

“As we saw this past holiday weekend with some of our beaches closed during Independence Day, the Tijuana River Valley environmental pollution crisis has reached a tipping point and we urgently need the federal government to step in and help us bring clean water to the families and visitors of San Diego County,” Vargas said.

Vargas added: “These closures continue to severely impact the life, health, and economic well-being of so many and we need a federal state of emergency if we truly want to address this issue. Enough is enough! ¡Ya basta!

“At the current pace, my four-year-old daughter may be in middle school by the time we’ve made any real progress.” - Vice Chair Terra Lawson-Remer

Lawson-Remer added that if 35 million gallons of sewage were being spilled on the National Mall in DC each day, then “our government would’ve taken action long ago.”

“Yet here we are, celebrating the Fourth of July holiday with many of our region’s beaches unsafe to swim in. At the current pace, my four-year-old daughter may be in middle school by the time we’ve made any real progress,” she said. “Our sewage crisis threatens our health, our environment, and our economy. We need a federal emergency declared and action now.”

Request to Newsom, Biden

The emergency declaration by the County of San Diego requests that the governor and the president proclaim a state of emergency, suspend red tape that may hinder response efforts, and expedite access to federal resources for San Diego County, the supervisors said.

This is the same process recently followed by local agencies to resolve the water quality crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Decades-long pollution

For several decades, the Tijuana River has caused immense devastation to the coastlines and beaches of San Diego County, resulting in contamination and pollution.

Extensive documentation by the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) reveals that since 2018, more than 100 billion gallons of toxic sewage have entered the United States through the Tijuana River.

Additionally, 35 billion gallons have crossed the international border flowing north from another broken sewage treatment plant in Punta Bandera, since December 28, 2022.

This new source of pollution is now impacting the San Diego coastline during the summer months due to the south swell, the supervisors said.

The continuous influx of transboundary sewage has profoundly affected our communities, leading to severe consequences in terms of public health, economic stability, and environmental well-being, the said.

Consequently, the impact can be seen in the prolonged closure of the south side of Imperial Beach for over 550 consecutive days due to the persistently poor water quality.