Reps. Susan Davis (left), Mike Levin, Juan Vargas and Scott Peters with Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina. Courtesy of Vargas’ office

Four of San Diego’s five members of Congress introduced a package of legislation Monday designed to stop pollution from the Tijuana River from reaching San Diego.

Reps. Juan Vargas, Susan Davis, Scott Peters and Mike Levin announced their Tijuana River Valley Pollution Solution package at a press conference in Chula Vista.

“We have an environmental crisis in San Diego. For years, the cross-border flows of wastewater, trash, and sediment coming from the Tijuana River have plagued our region, disrupting the lives of residents, service members, and visitors,” said Vargas, who represents the border area in Congress.

The package of three bills, each introduced by different members, would increase the capital of the North American Development Bank by $1.5 billion to fund treatment projects, enlist the help of the Navy and improve coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Davis noted that the the Navy is building a multi-billion dollar SEAL training facility just miles from the mouth of the Tijuana River and must take steps to make sure future spills don’t impact operations.

Peters said: “Today, we are taking a comprehensive approach to address the crisis. We must prioritize funding for projects that specifically address water pollution, wastewater treatment, and water conservation to reduce the risk of sewage flows.”

Pollution from Mexico via the Tijuana River has caused numerous beach closures from Imperial Beach to Coronado and disrupted Navy exercises.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, who represents rural East County, was not involved in drafting the legislation introduced Monday.

Pollution in the Tijuana River has affected U.S. waterways for decades, forcing beaches in San Diego County to close for extended periods due to pollutants like raw sewage flowing from across the border.

Local and state officials and environmental activists have long called for federal intervention to protect the health and safety of residents near the border.

In April, San Diego’s congressional Democrats jointly wrote a letter with Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to urge the directors of the State Department, Environmental Protection Agency, Customs and Border Protection, Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission to address sewage runoff in the river.

In response to lethargic action to mitigate pollution in the river, the San Diego Surfrider Foundation and the city of San Diego field separate lawsuits last year against the IBWC, which oversees waterways that traverse the border, arguing that the commission has been negligent of the river’s harmful effects. The city jointly filed the suit with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

Updated at 2:45 p.m. July 22, 2019

— City News Service contributed to this report.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.