Q&A: San Diego County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer on TJ Sewage Crisis

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Article by Julieta Soto.  Click here to view this article on the Coronado News website.

Throughout her candidacy, Vice Chair Terra Lawson-Remer voiced protecting San Diego beaches and coastlines as an essential priority for community members.

Lawson-Remer joined the San Diego County Board of Supervisors representing District 3, which includes Coronado, with a background in working toward social, environmental and economic justice. Earlier this year, the board elected Lawson-Remer as vice chair.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors declared the Tijuana River Valley Pollution a public health crisis in 2021. This year, Chairwoman Nora Vargas and Vice Chair Terra Lawson-Remer, proposed a resolution requesting additional funding at the state and federal levels to ensure clean water for all San Diego families, businesses and visitors.

On June 27, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors declared the first-ever state of emergency regarding the ongoing Tijuana sewage crisis polluting the Pacific Ocean and closing beaches in Coronado and Imperial Beach.

Chairwoman Nora Vargas and Vice Chair Terra Lawson-Remer also gathered and sent 2,500 petition signatures from local citizens asking President Biden to take federal action to the White House in July.

The Coronado News inquired about Vice Chair Terra Lawson-Remer’s motivation and goals for ongoing efforts to mitigate the cross-border sewage crisis via email correspondence this week.

Q: Why do you consider the Tijuana sewage crisis a priority?

Vice Chair Lawson-Remer: When you have 35 million gallons of toxic sewage being spilled in the ocean every day — poisoning our environment, hurting our tourism industry and threatening the health of our residents — to me, that certainly fits the definition of a crisis.

The fact that previous regional leadership allowed this crisis to persist for so long is unconscionable. Our coastal communities should not have to suffer this environmental injustice, and they deserve action from all levels of our government to put a stop to it. So to me, the question isn’t why it’s a priority, but why isn’t it a top priority for all of us?

And that’s a big part of what I’ve been fighting for, is building that awareness and sense of urgency that’s been missing, so we can bring all the key players together to finally get serious about fixing this crisis.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with the county-wide state of emergency regarding the sewage contamination entering the U.S.-Mexico border that contaminates local ocean waters?

Vice Chair Lawson-Remer: Declaring a county state of emergency raised the red flag and immediately elevated this issue in the eyes of our state and federal leaders. When we issued our declaration and called for a federal emergency, our entire local congressional delegation joined the call and urged President Biden to take action.

Our state leaders joined the fight by urging Governor Newsom to declare a state of emergency in California. This is the same process that local agencies recently used to tackle the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

In Flint, it was their county’s emergency declaration that finally brought swift action from the state and federal levels. We need a federal emergency to cut through red tape and get shovels in the dirt fixing the broken sewage infrastructure that’s causing this crisis.

It will also put pressure on the Mexican government to do their part. A federal emergency lets Mexico know that this crisis is not just a regional issue, it’s a major national priority of the United States.

Q: How are you working with bi-national key stakeholders to ensure the best result for your constituents?

Vice Chair Lawson-Remer: Along with our congressional delegation, we’ve engaged the regional government in Mexico to urge them into action. The funds to fix the broken Punta Bandera sewage plant have been proposed in the Mexican National budget, but we need to apply public pressure to ensure the funds are approved when their government votes on their budget this fall. And then we need to keep the pressure on to expedite this project, so it moves as quickly as possible to address this environmental emergency on our coastline.

Q: How are you, along with fellow San Diego County Board of Supervisors, working to keep local beaches and the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park, affected by the sewage contamination crisis, open and safe for public access?

Vice Chair Lawson-Remer: Since I came into office, we’ve made major strides to address the pollution issues on our side of the border. Our County has made huge new investments in stormwater infrastructure to help keep pollutants and harmful runoff out of our ocean and watersheds. Our Beach and Bay Water Quality Monitoring Program protects the public health of millions of residents and visitors each year through a rigorous water testing and public education program.

But at this point we really need federal action to get us closer to a real solution. Until our government and the Mexican government get serious about fixing the root of the problem — the broken sewage treatment infrastructure — we’re going to see these harmful effects continue.

Q: What solutions can the community of Coronado expect you to bring forth by 2024 to lessen beach closures?

Vice Chair Lawson-Remer: At the county level, we will keep doing everything in our power to keep our water clean — this goes back to the critical investment in stormwater infrastructure I fought for, as well as rehabilitation efforts our county will be working on in the Tijuana River Valley.

In just the past two years we’ve made more progress than our old leadership was able to accomplish in decades. With the momentum we’ve been building, I’m optimistic that we’ll finally get the attention this issue deserves from our federal government.

But that only happens if we keep the pressure on, which is why I’ll be calling for action until all of our beautiful beaches are safe to swim in.

Q: Where does sewage pollution fall in your list of key issues that you will consider a priority during reelection for the District 3 seat following your current term as Supervisor?

Vice Chair Lawson-Remer: Protecting our beaches and coastlines is of the utmost importance. At the current pace, my four-year-old daughter may be a teenager by the time we’ve made any real progress on this pollution crisis, and that’s unacceptable.

This issue is a top priority of mine, and must remain a priority for all levels of our government as we move forward. Some of the issues I’m committed to tackling are extremely complicated and multifaceted – making housing costs more affordable; tackling homelessness on our streets; building resilience against climate change; or stopping the spread of illicit and deadly drugs.

But addressing this sewage crisis is much more simple; we just need the determination to see it through. That’s why every voice matters, and we must keep the pressure on our federal government to step up.