Administrator Wheeler Concludes Tijuana River Visit and Roundtable with San Diego Local Leaders
SAN DIEGO (September 2, 2020) – Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler concluded a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border where he toured the Tijuana River and met with local leaders to discuss a number of agency announcements aimed at cleaning up pollution along the river and bolstering environmental quality for San Diego.
“EPA and its partners are making progress solving pollution along the Border, and in particular, wastewater problems along the Tijuana River,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “This effort is complicated by the security concerns the Border brings, but the combination of these announcements and incoming funding from the USMCA trade agreement will really improve the environmental health and safety of the 4.5 million people living on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.”
“San Diego got two historic wins in the USMCA – a trade deal built for the 21st century and a fix for the environmental crisis in the Tijuana River Valley,” said San Diego Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer. “We’ve advocated long and hard for this across party lines and this $300 million investment by the EPA marks a new chapter for the San Diego-Tijuana megaregion with improved quality of life for so many residents on both sides of the border.”
Administrator Wheeler began his visit at the U.S. Border Patrol San Diego Sector where he was greeted by Patrol Chief Rodney Scott. He then joined officials from EPA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for a driving tour along the border where he observed the Tijuana River Channel, Goat Canyon Drainage, Tijuana Estuary, and Border Field State Park. The river has long been a site for pollution and sewage that harms the surrounding environment and population, but also puts at risk the safety of border patrol agents.
Following the driving portion of the tour, Administrator Wheeler joined U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau, EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator John Busterud, and San Diego Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke for a helicopter tour along the border.
Administrator Wheeler then participated in a roundtable with local leaders to discuss how the federal government and local leaders can partner to improve environmental outcomes along the border and for the community at U.S. Coast Guard San Diego Station. He was joined by Ambassador Landau, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox, Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey, Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina, EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Busterud, Chief Heitke, Captain Timothy Barelli, DHS Assistant Secretary for Border Security and Immigration Sarah Rehberg, International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) Commissioner Jayne Harkins, and other local environmental officials and law enforcement.
At the conclusion of the roundtable, Administrator Wheeler, Mayor Faulconer, Supervisor Cox, Mayor Bailey, Mayor Dedina, Regional Administrator Busterud, and Chief Scott held a press conference where he made several EPA announcements to help bolster environmental cleanup efforts along the Tijuana River. He announced EPA will enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with IBWC and other local, state and federal partners, to construct a temporary river diversion structure to pump an additional 10 million gallons per day (mgd) of Tijuana River flow for treatment at the IBWC International Treatment Plant. This project involves placement of a temporary diversion structure in the main river channel, a portable pump, and piping to the treatment plant headworks. This project will help stop most of the dry weather transboundary flows from reaching the Pacific Ocean.
Administrator Wheeler also shared that EPA is partnering with the City of San Diego, San Diego County, and the Regional Water Board to rapidly plan and implement a sediment and trash control structure in Smuggler’s Gulch. This project builds upon ideas generated by the County’s SB507 planning process and will enable the agency to capture significant loads of trash and sediment that flow across the border in Smuggler’s Gulch every year. The project will require planning and design work and the City of San Diego, County of San Diego, and Regional Water Board have begun drafting an MOU to develop and implement the project in the reasonably near future.
“Today, we begin to turn the tide in our battle against sewage pollution. The time for talk is over. The time for action is here. I am happy to see that we are now moving forward with actual solutions and projects to address this problem,” said San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairman Greg Cox.
“This announcement is a major milestone that will greatly benefit the San Diego area. We appreciate the ongoing regional collaboration and leadership from the EPA,” said City of Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey.
Additionally, Administrator Wheeler announced the recent completion of the Poniente Collector that will eliminate 4.5 mgd of sewage from entering the Tijuana River. EPA has also completed the connection of 400 additional homes to wastewater service in Hidalgo County. EPA’s $5.8 million investment for these projects leveraged an additional $9 million from the project sponsors in Mexico and the State of Texas.
EPA has committed an additional $15.6 million to fund additional infrastructure projects along the California and Texas border and expects these projects to be certified or completed in the coming year.
Lastly, Administrator Wheeler announced an important, cost-saving update to the city’s existing Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loan. This action lowers the WIFIA loan’s interest rate, saving ratepayers an additional $290 million over the life of the loan.
Originally announced in November 2018, the $614 million WIFIA loan would help finance the City of San Diego’s $1.4 billion Pure Water San Diego project. EPA is proud to partner with the City of San Diego in this project that will construct a new advanced treatment facility to produce 30 mgd of purified water. This is the first phase in its multi-year Pure Water Program which will use proven technology to clean non-potable recycled water into safe, high quality, drinking water and provide one-third of the City’s water supply by 2035.
WIFIA is providing financial support at a critical time as the federal government, EPA, and the water sector work together to help mitigate the public health and financial impacts of COVID-19. Today, the WIFIA program is able to offer the City of San Diego a lower interest rate.
Since the beginning of March 2020, the WIFIA program has closed ten loans and updated two existing loans. These recent efforts will save ratepayers over $1 billion compared to alternative financing tools. Since the program’s inception, EPA has issued 26 WIFIA loans totaling $5.6 billion in credit assistance to help finance $12.4 billion for water infrastructure projects while saving ratepayers $2.6 billion over traditional financing tools and creating 26,000 jobs.