Border sewage pollution EPA
The Tijuana River Valley. Photo credit: Ruff Tuff Cream Puff via Wikimedia Commons

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to declare pollution at the Tijuana River Valley a public health crisis.

Supervisor Nora Vargas said the action is needed because of the decades-long contamination of River Valley, which has resulted in environmental and health damage.

According to the county, the region has long suffered from poor air quality, sewage leaks, waste from industrial plants, tire waste, plastic pollution, sediment, and trash.

“This issue is near and dear to my heart,” said Vargas, who said she’s been working on it since 1993. “Our communities cannot afford to wait any longer.”

Vargas said she will advocate for more funding to help clean up the region and address the impacts of pollution on minority communities.

The county declaration received support from several environmental groups, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria’s office and Paloma Aguirre, an Imperial Beach City Council member.

Aguirre said beaches in her city were closed for numerous days due to pollution hazards, and that storm water has damaged nearby hiking trails.

Although the county will soon open up a campground in the area, “we must first clean up the Tijuana River Valley,” Aguirre said.

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said the county “absolutely (needs) a new approach to deal with this disaster.”

Supervisor Jim Desmond said he was glad the board was taking a fresh look at pollution issues in the Tijuana River Valley.

Supervisor Joel Anderson suggested the county also ask the Biden administration to work with Mexico to help solve the issue, as it “impacts both sides of the border.”

Any recommendations proposed by the South County Environmental Justice Task Force to clean up the Tijuana River Valley would first need approval by the supervisors.