The United States and Mexico agreed Thursday on how to spend $470 million in hopes of preventing sewage from Tijuana from spilling into San Diego and closing beaches.
With the agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada in 2020, Congress designated $300 million for border projects like those needed in the Tijuana River Basin. Although that money could be spent on both sides of the border, it became clear over time that the US Environmental Protection Agency would spend it in San Diego.
“First we wanted to identify all the projects on both sides of the border that were the highest priorities, and that each country would fund their respective sides when possible,” said Tomás Torres, director of the EPA’s Southwest water division, who has labored on this cross. -Problem of border contamination for more than two decades.
Now the public knows what Mexico is willing to contribute: approximately $140 million dollars, or $2.8 billion Mexican pesos, through 2027 to repair a long list of pipes, pumps and sewage treatment facilities.
“I asked before we sat down to talk… that we had a clear idea of what projects we wanted to execute and how we are going to finance them,” Roberto Velasco, Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs for North America, said at the signing ceremony of the agreement. Thursday in the Tijuana River estuary. “I didn’t want this to be another table where we sit down and talk conceptually about a problem that we’ve been diagnosing for many years.”
The United States and Mexico signed a new type of pledge called a “declaration of intent” that lists 15 projects to be completed in the “short term,” or before 2027, and eight long-term projects that still need dedicated money and a plan. It is not a legally binding document, unlike an agreement linked to a treaty. It is more like a promise that either country can point to in the future as political administrations and their appointees change, a type of turnover that is more prevalent in Mexico and may be the reason why large infrastructure projects are not are completed.
The United States and Mexico worked at a 50-50 cost share on a handful of projects, such as rebuilding a pipeline that carries raw sewage through the streets of Tijuana to a sewage treatment plant in San Diego. The United States would also help pay for a water recycling system so that Tijuana can store treated wastewater in Embalse Rodríguez.
Tijuana is in dire need of more water sources, as it currently relies heavily on the drought-affected Colorado River. Mexico recently took a 7 percent cut in its legal share of that water because the river’s stored water levels are so low there isn’t enough to go around. Reusing that already treated water from the La Morita and Arturo Herrera wastewater treatment plants could accumulate around 15 million gallons of additional recycled water per day. Right now, that treated water is returned to the Tijuana River, where it becomes contaminated with sewage and other contaminants in the waterway.
It is important to note that the signed promise lists the amounts of money that Mexico plans to use on its share of the projects. Much of it would come from something called MECAPLAN. It is a mechanism by which the federal government prioritizes municipal projects for federal funding, said José Dolores Gutiérrez Ramírez of CONAGUA, Mexico’s federal water commission.
Other ways Mexico pays for its share of projects could come from CONAGUA itself, through an EPA border water concession program.
The two countries consecrated these projects and who is responsible for financing them under another agreement, one that has a little more force than the signed promise, that’s minute 328. These are like appendices to treaties, and are legally binding agreements that resolve international disputes as threatening as war.
For the first time in the history of the US-Mexico border, two women are heading their respective water and boundary commissions and served as the main negotiators of this Act.
“We are comadres,” Maria-Elena Giner, President Joe Biden’s pick for the US IBWC, said of her Mexican counterpart Adriana Reséndez Maldonado, like saying sisters, girlfriends, the feminine form of “compadre.”
Importantly, that agreement says that while the US is covering the cost of expanding a treatment plant on the border to handle more wastewater from Tijuana, Mexico will have to pay a greater share of the ongoing costs of maintaining the that plant.