banner photo by William Bay

What is Clean Border Water Now (CBWN)?

CBWN is Surfrider San Diego’s grassroots campaign focused on reducing coastal water pollution at San Diego’s southern border. Surfrider’s current advocacy efforts through CBWN include: 1) collaboration with regional stakeholders on technical engineering solutions to manage border sewage, 2) advocacy at the local, regional and federal level to fund those solutions, and; 3) litigation against the federal agency responsible for managing border sewage.

Who runs Clean Border Water Now? 

Surfrider’s San Diego County Chapter is local to the San Diego Region. The Surfrider Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches. The Surfrider network consists of more than 170 chapters and student clubs, with the San Diego County Chapter being one of the largest and most active in the country. The Clean Border Water Now (CBWN) committee is one of Surfrider San Diego’s eight volunteer-led committees. CBWN is run by the volunteer leadership of three Imperial Beach residents and a part-time Surfrider staff policy coordinator focused entirely on the border sewage issue. Surfrider holds monthly CBWN meetings after normal work hours at the Imperial Beach Public Library to gather input from the community and keep the public updated on the committee’s progress and policy goals. Meetings are open to the public and include local residents, business owners, families, wastewater professionals, scientists, educators and even children.

Surfrider’s CBWN commitee also supports local beach cleanups on weekends, as well as  participates in letter-writing events in Imperial Beach and other impacted communities. These outreach events allow Surfrider the opportunity to connect with local members of the public about their concerns. 

What is the TRV Solution?

The Tijuana River Valley (TRV) Solution is a conceptual design plan created to address some of the toughest sewage issues that we’re facing at the border. In the absence of federal leadership, Surfrider  began designing this solution in 2018 on the heels of one of the most egregious sewage spills the region had ever seen. The goal of the TRV Solution is to address the sewage, chemicals, plastics, tires, and sediment that are destroying the Tijuana River Valley and putting the health and safety of the community at risk. The Tijuana Slough shoreline has been closed in excess of 215 days in 2019 alone. For instance, the TRV Solution calls for: 1) continuous cleaning of the Tijuana River Valley, 2) building of infrastructure that will divert more sewage to the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant and; 3) treatment of water before it gets to the beaches and Pacific Ocean. 

The TRV Solution is the culmination of two and a half years of collaborative research, attendance at public meetings, and experience and discussions with a wide range of community members, non profits, agencies and decision-makers. Surfrider has attended nearly 100 stakeholder meetings over the last three years on the border sewage issue and it is those meetings that have helped shape the TRV Solution. Regular attendance and participation at public meetings allowed Surfrider the opportunity to develop strong relationships with the community and agencies highly involved in the border sewage issue. In drafting the TRV Solution, Surfrider also took into consideration more than 10,000 letters collected from San Diego County residents over the last three years, which advocated for funding, projects, and legislation to combat the border pollution crisis.

How would the TRV Solution sediment basin impact the surrounding community? 

The sediment basin offers a solution to manage contaminated water that is otherwise left stagnant in the river valley for days and weeks after overflow events. The sediment basin would be completely dry the majority of the year but during overflow events it would direct water that is currently unmanaged to the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant for treatment within 48 hours. While specific details about the basin are still evolving, Surfrider supports the inclusion of green infrastructure and technology solutions to eliminate potential odors, accelerate drying and reduce pathogens. We have held public meetings for community feedback on this solution and met with representatives from the Border Patrol.  We will continue to work with all parties to create a safe solution. The location of the sediment basin is not yet determined and Surfrider is open to alternative locations, undergrounding and percolation.

Has the Tijuana River Valley (TRV) Solution ever been presented at a public meeting?

Yes. The TRV Solution has been distributed widely to agencies and individuals who attend the array of public meetings on the border sewage issue. Additionally, the TRV Solution has been presented in the following forums: The Tijuana River Valley Recovery Team (TRVRT) Steering Committee on January 22, 2019; The Tijuana River National Estuarine Reserve (TRNERR) Advisory Council meeting on February 5, 2019; The CBWN monthly meeting on March 14, 2019; and The Surfrider San Diego quarterly Chapter Meeting on August 15, 2019. The TRNERR, CBWN, and Surfrider chapter meetings are open to the public. The TRVRT is a collaboration of over 30 federal, state and local agencies and other interested parties from both sides of the border focused on addressing sediment, trash and associated environmental issues. 

Would the TRV Solution increase sewage in the Pacific Ocean?

No. The TRV Solution is designed to decrease sewage and other pollution flowing to the ocean.  It is a start/stop system that would be activated when there is a spill or other manageable event. It would capture, treat and divert sewage-contaminated water that would otherwise travel through the Tijuana River Valley and flow into the Pacific Ocean. It provides for trash capture and treatment of both sewage and chemicals. The TRV Solution also considers a wide-range of policy objectives aimed at a long-term solution and a collaborative approach with Mexico. 

What other advocacy efforts related to border sewage is Surfrider conducting at the federal level?

Surfrider is supporting federal legislation that either directly funds tangible regional solutions like the TRV Solution or opens up avenues for funding support.  Two major advocacy efforts that we are focused on are:

  • US-Mexico Border Water Infrastructure Program (BWIP) –  Surfrider continues to lobby and advocate for increased funding for the BWIP, which is a matched funding program that invests in infrastructure in Mexico. 
  • US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA, formerly NAFTA) – Surfrider encourages our federal government to leverage its position in any negotiations with appropriate Mexican counterparts to include solutions to cross border pollution. 

Surfrider is also engaged in a lawsuit. Why?

In July 2018, Surfrider filed suit against the United States International Boundary Water Commission (IBWC) for violations of the Clean Water Act affecting the waters of the U.S.-Mexico border region. The IBWC is the federal agency responsible for managing water quality in the border region. Surfrider is taking legal action after a decades-long campaign against border sewage in order to protect surfing, swimming and other recreational resources of the San Diego coast; to defend threatened species and habitat; and to fight for clean water on our coast. Surfrider decided to take this step after it became evident that the IBWC was not going to address the pollution. 

Why is Surfrider calling for action now?

Untreated sewage has posed a risk to human health, the Tijuana River Valley ecosystem, and the Pacific Ocean since the 1930’s.  In 2017, the sewage problem reached an unacceptable and catastrophic level when 143 million gallons of raw sewage were discharged into the Tijuana River. Development in Tijuana, as well as more extreme storms as a result of climate change, are both expected to exacerbate the problem if it is permitted to continue. The United States International Boundary Water Commission (IBWC) has not taken steps to address how it will manage the waters under its purview. Surfrider believes that the federal government has failed for far too long to act on this issue.

Who can participate in Surfrider efforts?

Everyone. Surfrider is at its core a grassroots organization, born from the tireless work of volunteer activists. Our monthly Clean Border Water Now (CBWN) committee meetings held in Imperial Beach are, and always have been, public grassroots forums. CBWN also conducts and participates in numerous outreach forums that facilitate transparent engagement with the community (see FAQ question “Who Runs Clean Border Water Now?”) Surfrider also actively participates in collaborative stakeholder meetings with other non-profits, government agencies, and members of the public. The majority of the meetings that Surfrider attends and participates in are public meetings, which by nature are open to the public.

Why is Surfrider interested in border sewage?

Surfrider’s mission has been focused on protecting the ocean, waves, and beaches for more than 35 years. The border sewage issue represents potentially the largest threat we see to those resources and values. Surfrider wants clean water 365 days a year on South San Diego beaches.  

What is Surfrider’s history with border sewage?

Surfrider has been actively involved on the border sewage issue for more than 13 years, advocating for clean water under the previous campaign name ‘No Border Sewage.’ Surfrider San Diego’s early campaign focused on education and outreach primarily for the first several years, including cross-border meetings with NGOs from both the U.S. and Mexico.  In recent years, Surfrider has been more focused on local, state and federal policy initiatives to solve the issue and has addressed the Clean Water Act violations through litigation.  Surfrider hired a part-time policy coordinator focused on this issue in 2017 who has been present at virtually all important stakeholder meetings open to the public. Surfrider took on the daunting task of proposing a solution to the border pollution infrastructure failures with the TRV Solution.

Where can I learn more? 

Surfrider keeps the Clean Border Water Now (CBWN) page updated. You can also come join one of CBWN’s next meetings, which you can find on the calender here. To contact San Diego Surfrider staff and volunteer CBWN committee leads, email CBWN@surfridersd.org.