Supervisor Lawson-Remer Takes Further Action to Keep Trash, Sewage Out of Local Oceans

News Date

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer voted today, along with her colleagues on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, to advance a multi-million dollar project to remove debris from the Tijuana River Valley and reduce community and coastal pollution during flooding events.

“The County is stepping up to tackle the Tijuana sewage crisis – not just in advocating for desperately needed federal action, but also in literally rolling up our sleeves and cleaning up the area with the resources we have,” said Supervisor Lawson-Remer, Vice Chair of the Board of Supervisors. “While this is not going to permanently fix this environmental catastrophe, it will mean in the near-term that there will be less flooding and trash flowing into our oceans and communities.”

The Board voted to authorize the advertisement and award a construction contract. Work is expected to begin in winter 2023-24 and is anticipated to be complete by the end of 2024.

The Tijuana River Valley dredging project will include the mechanized removal of sediment, vegetation, trash, and debris from Smuggler’s Gulch and the Pilot Channel. Smuggler’s Gulch is a drainage channel that enters the United States from Mexico and runs north until it intersects with the Pilot Channel, and then flows into the Tijuana River and ultimately to the Pacific Ocean.

By removing these accumulated materials, the project will improve conveyance capacity of these existing channels, which will help to reduce localized flood risks. 

Today’s action follows Supervisor Lawson-Remer and the County Board of Supervisors vote on June 27, 2023, to declare a local emergency due to the cross-border pollution and sewage’s persistent impacts on local communities, the economy, and the ocean environment.

The project will use County funds directed by the Board of Supervisors as well as grant funding, for a total cost of approximately $5 million. County Supervisors approved $750,000 for the maintenance of Smuggler’s Gulch in Fiscal Year 2023-2024. The grant funds come from a $4.25 million award the County received in 2023 from the California State Water Resources Control Board through Senate Bill 170 to implement channel maintenance and dredging activities in existing channels in the Tijuana River Valley as necessary to improve hydrology and reduce localized flood risks. 

A goal of the project is to combine and coordinate efforts by the County and City of San Diego – which both own and maintain land in the area – and provide a regional approach to address the issue. In previous years, the County has spent roughly $500,000 annually to remove trash and sediment from a portion of the Smuggler’s Gulch channel, while the remainder of the Smuggler’s Gulch channel and the Pilot Channel have been maintained by the City. Now, the County will take the short-term lead on this dredging project, though it does not intend to permanently take on maintenance of City-owned property within the flood channels.

One documented impact of the cross-border flows is excess sediment and trash that enters local waterways in the Tijuana River Valley.

Learn more here.