By Jose Luis Jiménez, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 12:05 a.m.
TIJUANA— In 1990, Tecate, Rosarito Beach and Tijuana treated about 50 percent of their sewage, with the rest running into the Tijuana River or being dumped directly into the Pacific Ocean. That led to frequent closures of beaches in south San Diego County due to high levels of contamination.
With the opening Tuesday of the La Morita sewage treatment plant in Tijuana, officials said the region will soon treat 90 percent of its wastewater. The facility in the fast-growing southeast portion of the city will treat up to 20 percent of the incoming flow for use in irrigation. A nursery built next to the plant will use some of the water to grow trees and plants that will be planted throughout Baja California. The treated water will also irrigate a soccer field and public plaza next to the plant.
With the opening of another facility scheduled for the end of the year, Baja California Gov. José Guadalupe Osuna Millán and Tijuana Mayor Jorge Ramos predict the region will treat 100 percent of its sewage, a first in Mexico. Throughout the country, only about 35 percent of the wastewater is treated.
“This is a significant step toward our goal of making Tijuana green,” the governor said during a ceremony inaugurating the plant.
Environmentalists on hand for the opening hailed it as significant progress toward cleaning up the border.
“We are here to recognize and applaud their work,” said Ben McCue, of the U.S. environmental group Wildcoast. “In turn, we get clean water in San Diego.”
The plant, designed to treat about 5.6 million gallons of sewage daily, is in a valley surrounded by fast-growing suburbs and industry. It will serve approximately 250,000 people.
While the plant was built with funds from Mexico’s federal government and a loan from Japan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is contributing $2.7 million to connect more than 8,000 homes to the plant. Since 1998, the agency has invested $56 million to pay for 18 infrastructure projects in cities along the border, seven of which have been completed, said Doug Liden, an environmental engineer with the Environmental Protection Agency.
The region is close to reaching its wastewater treatment goal even though the population has increased by an average of 100,000 people a year during the past decade.
“Ten years ago, the focus was getting the waste out of the river,” Liden said. “The waste is pretty much out of the river. Now the focus is on trash and sediment.”