By Ken Stone
In a 24-hour period, Mexico’s top diplomat twice promised San Diegans that repairs are coming soon to Tijuana’s much-maligned sewage system — a recurring nightmare for South Bay beaches.Luis Videgaray, the influential foreign secretary in the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, apparently told the San Diego Association of Governments board Friday the same thing he said Thursday in a UC San Diego talk.
“For sure, it’s [on] my radar,” Videgaray told 250 at UCSD in response to a question from San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Sandra Dibble about “contamination of our shared Tijuana River watershed.”
“Before coming here, I spoke to the minister of finance and he assured me the funds are there… So the Mexican side should bear some responsibility. We have the funds allocated,” said the 49-year-old economist, returning to the La Jolla campus for the first time in 25 years.
Without giving details, he promised sewage issues “should be corrected in the next few months.”
Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina, whose city is suing for improvements on the American side of the border, said he heard Videgaray make the same pledge to San Diego City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez and county Supervisor Greg Cox on Friday.“It’s really important that the foreign secretary of Mexico address this issue directly,” Dedina told Times of San Diego.
He said Videgaray made it clear that the binational chamber of commerce would make “another major announcement” in April.
“I’m going to be cautiously optimistic, but wait until the actual improvements are made,” Dedina said.
On the same day that President Trump signed an omnibus spending bill that includes $10 million for the EPA to address border problems, Dedina noted that Mexico has to match certain spending on sewage repairs.
“So we’re in a better place than we were in yesterday, that’s for sure,” Dedina said in a phone interview.Mexico is expected to fix broken pipes, he said, including one that led to a massive Tijuana River spill that fouled coastal areas in February 2017.
“And then they need to move on,” he said, to upgrading the Mexican pump station at Punta Banderas. “To me that sounds like a major priority right now.”
A third major task is for Mexico to stop dumping sewage — treated and untreated — into the Tijuana River, which has to be pumped out again, he said.
Videgaray told the inaugural Distinguished Lecture on U.S.-Mexico Relations at UCSD: “What Mexico should be doing is rebuild the infrastructure that is broken [and] what’s creating this problem.”
A week ago, Democratic Reps. Juan Vargas, Scott Peters and Susan Davis of San Diego were signatories to a letter urging House appropriators to include $10 million for the U.S.-Mexico Border Water Infrastructure Program.
The EPA program, they wrote, is “the only federal program that can fund projects on both sides of the border.”
The money — and Mexico’s fixes — can’t come too soon for Dedina of Imperial Beach, a longtime surfer who was sickened by coastal toxins himself.
“It’s the highest-level [Mexican] official that’s ever commented on this issue,” he said of Videgaray. “So that’s great. It’s Mexico’s responsibility for fixing the problem.”Dedina said Tijuana developers are being charged to hook into a sewer system that doesn’t work.
“Imperial Beach and Coronado and their own coastline pay the costs for it,” he said.
“The reality is that developers and agencies in Tijuana and Baja California have made millions and millions of dollars because they get to dump raw sewage on us.”
In the federal suit filed March 2 by the San Diego Unified Port District and two South Bay cities, the International Border Water Commission and co-defendant Veolia Water North America have yet to respond, according to court records.
“But in a reaction to the notice of intent to sue, they said they don’t have any responsibility to fix the problem,” Dedina said.
Mexican pledges to repair sewage issues do not make the federal lawsuit moot, however.
“We still need that backup,” Dedina said. “There are six canyons in the valley … and they are totally underserved for storm water, sediment and trash capture. [Videgaray is] only talking about sewage. He’s not even talking about trash.”
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