Environment and Resources – Water
BY Emily Holding
Tuesday, 20 April 2010 16:04

After years of waiting for funding and litigation, the construction of the secondary treatment facilities at the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant finally has a projected date of completion.

Ed Brusina, commissioner of the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, says the long-awaited facilities should be finished next January. In a March 23 letter to the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Brusina called the completion of the secondary treatment facilities one of his highest priorities.

The South Bay Treatment Plant in San Ysidro was built in 1997 to handle untreated wastewater from Mexico coming into the U.S. through the Tijuana River. The plant treats 25 million gallons of water per day to primary treatment standards, but the Clean Water Act requires that water be given secondary treatment before it is released into the ocean. The secondary treatment facilities were not included in the initial construction due to lack of funding and legal challenges, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Lack of secondary sewage treatment provisions has led to beach closures in places like Imperial Beach and Coronado. Environmental group WildCoast reports that 80 to 90 percent of the beach closures in San Diego County each year are due to this pollution carried into the U.S. from the Tijuana River. Last March, surfers at Imperial Beach were encouraged to get Hepatitis vaccinations due to the pollution.

Pollution from Tijuana has been a concern since 1934, when the U.S. and Mexico asked the International Boundary Commission to cooperate in a report on the Tijuana sewage problem. In the ‘90s, the U.S. and Mexican sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address the problem by building the South Bay treatment plant, which was completed in 1997.

In 2001, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (CRWQCB) sued the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC) in federal court, asking for judicial enforcement of waste discharge requirements at the South Bay plant. The court issued a final judgment in favor of the CRWQCB in December 2004, which included a Compliance Order directing the USIBWC to construct secondary treatment facilities by August 24, 2008.

A year before this due date, the USIBWC asked for an amendment to the Compliance Order that would extend the deadline to March 2010. But Congress ended up setting aside $66 million in the 2008 budget for the secondary treatment facilities. Despite this funding for secondary treatment of the South Bay plant, the court extended the deadline to Jan. 5, 2011.

In order to meet this deadline, Drusina said that the USIBWC negotiated two modifications to the existing contract in early 2010 to speed up the process. The modifications cost about $4 million and include overtime for existing and additional crews and accelerated delivery of equipment. In the letter to the CRWQCB, Drusina said the USIBWC has made some in-house changes as well, which include a full-time contracting officer and increased on-site personnel observations.

“This additional work will result in secondary treatment of SBIWTP (South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant) effluent by January 5, 2011, which the contractor has guaranteed and in accordance with the deadline established by the court order,” Drusina wrote, adding that he appreciates “that this has been a long project fraught with difficulties, and that we are all anxious to complete the SBIWTP.”