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Council Panel Offers New Sewage Plan : $35.4-Million System Would Route Waste Back Into Mexico

April 11, 1985|GLENN BURKINS | Times Staff Writer

A City Council committee voted Wednesday to recommend that federal and state governments share the cost of a $35.4-million defensive sewage system that eventually would send Tijuana sewage spills back into Mexico.

The two-pronged plan, drafted by city-hired consultants Lowry & Associates, was approved by the Committee on Public Facilities and Recreation, and must now go to the full council. It calls for building a backup sewage system that would consist of two separate facilities. The first, a temporary system, would catch Tijuana sewage spills and deposit them into the San Diego sewage system. A later, more permanent, system would return spilled sewage to the Mexican system.

"It is a great proposal," said Councilman Dick Murphy who sits on the committee. "I think it does what San Diego should have been doing all along. It sends Mexican sewage back into Mexico. I always felt it was unfair for American taxpayers to have to pay to process Mexican sewage."

Committee consultant Patricia Tennyson said she is not sure when the proposal will go before the council but, if approved, the recommendation will be sent to one of several federal agencies trying to resolve the sewage problem.

Although federal agencies do not have to accept the city's recommendations, Tennyson said she believes the city's input will be welcomed.

The committee recommended that the estimated $35.4-million tab be picked up by the federal and state governments.

U.S. officials last fall proposed a $60-million joint U.S.-Mexico plant to treat Tijuana sewage in the United State, but that idea was rejected by Mexican officials in favor of building their own plants in Mexico.

The Mexicans propose to build, within a year, a sewage treatment plant four miles south of Tijuana near La Joya that would treat as much as 50 million gallons of sewage a day, and to build a second plant within five years at the juncture of the Tijuana and Alamar rivers, near Mesa de Otay. That second plant would treat 25 million gallons of sewage a day.

Murphy said U.S. officials don't doubt that the Mexican government can successfully operate the plants, but they do worry that sewage lines leading to the plants will break. Also, many houses in Tijuana are not connected to the Mexican system, and sewage from those residences flows across the border into the United States.

The city recommendation called for a first system that would be a three-year measure to catch sewage crossing the border at Goat Canyon, Smugglers Gulch, Stewart's Drain and Canyon Del Sol. The spills would be put into the San Diego system in the vicinity of Coronado and 19th streets.

That system would cost more than $3.8 million and could be operational by the fall of 1986, Murphy said. It would remain in operation until the second system is completed.

The second system would operate only during Mexican shutdown periods. It would dump spills back into the Mexican system without discharging any sewage into the San Diego system, Murphy said. This system would cost more than $31.6 million and could be operational by the fall of 1988.

The state Legislature has appropriated about $5.3 million for border sewage systems, Murphy said. The federal government has authorized about $32 million to build a sewage treatment plant but only $5 million of that has actually been released.

Before any federal funds can be used, Murphy said, the federal government must re-authorize the money so that it can be used to build the systems now proposed--not the sewage treatment plant that Congress approved initially.

An aide to U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Coronado) said Wednesday that a sewage holding pond near the Mexican border will be closed next week because a new Mexican pumping station will begin handling overflows from the Tijuana sewage system.

The pond was built last year by the International Boundary and Water Commission to collect sewage spills that otherwise would have flowed into the Tijuana River and ultimately into the ocean.

Nearby residents have nicknamed the pond "Hunter's Pond" in honor of Hunter, who urged that it be built.

In Sacramento Wednesday, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown's $176-million border sewage and toxic pollution cleanup plan breezed over its first legislative hurdle.

The Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials unanimously approved Brown's bill after a long line of witnesses from San Diego and Imperial counties warned that the sewage crisis could generate a statewide health epidemic.

The bill calls for a 1986 referendum to authorize the sale of $150 million in bonds.

Brown, a San Francisco Democrat, said that because the Mexican sewage problem poses a threat to Southern California beaches and because of its potential for spreading disease, he considers it "a statewide problem . . . of just enormous proportions."

He said the federal government had failed to deal with the decades-old problem and that Mexico, "a Third-World nation that is heavily in debt . . . is absolutely incapable of addressing the issue."

Besides calling for the bond election, Brown's bill, which the entire San Diego legislative delegation is co-sponsoring, would appropriate $21.5 million for a flow collection system to pump sewage into a planned wastewater reclamation project in Mexico and $500,000 to identify the source of contaminants.

Times staff writer Kenneth F. Bunting in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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