WASHINGTON — A measure aimed at solving a decades-old San Diego problem--the fouling of its beaches by raw sewage from neighboring Tijuana--was tacked onto a popular clean water bill Tuesday by a House subcommittee, virtually assuring its approval by the full House this summer.
If the Senate approves similar legislation, as California Republicans said they believe is probable, actual work to end the pollution problem could get under way as early as year's end, one House member from San Diego said.
The amendment, passed on voice vote by the House Public Works subcommittee on water resources, would authorize construction of a $32-million "defensive pipeline" system to funnel untreated sewage from the Tijuana River into a Mexican canal before it reaches San Diego-area beaches.
No Waste Treatment Plant
Tijuana, which has no waste-water treatment plant, now routinely pumps sewage into an ocean outfall, but its pumping system frequently breaks down, spilling the sewage into the river, which empties into the Pacific just north of the U.S.-Mexican border.
The canal, by contrast, empties into the Pacific Ocean at Rosarita Beach, far south of San Diego. The Mexican government has agreed to let the United States divert sewage from the Tijuana River into the canal and has pledged to build a treatment plant at the end of the canal within a few years.
"For two or three decades, we've had a real problem" with Tijuana River sewage, said Rep. Ron Packard (R-Carlsbad), a member of the Public Works subcommittee and author of the amendment. "It's been a severe health hazard, and it's polluted our beaches. This is the first major step toward solving that problem."
Packard's amendment also would allow construction of another treatment plant for Tijuana's sewage--on the U.S. side of the border--if the Mexican plant is not built as promised.
The full Public Works Committee is expected to give routine approval to the amended clean water bill today, Packard said. Environmental lobbyists say passage of the bill by the full House is all but certain, probably next month.
California legislators took the same amendment route last year in an effort to win federal aid for the Tijuana sewage problem. But the effort collapsed when a proposed renewal of the Clean Water Act, already passed by the House with the sewage clause, died when the Senate failed to pass its own version of the bill.
New Clean Water Bill
This year, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has already approved a new clean water measure, and full Senate passage also appears likely.
The Senate bill does not include authorization for the Tijuana River project. But an aide to Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), former San Diego mayor, said Wilson probably would seek to amend the bill to include the sewage project or ask the Senate to accept the House amendment.
Congress allotted $32 million for Tijuana sewage relief last year, and the money could be spent for the pipeline system in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 with only routine technical changes in appropriations legislation, congressional staff members said.