The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to declare a state of emergency and demand federal aid amid the ongoing Tijuana sewage crisis.
The move came as environmental, economic and community concerns have increased over the pollution that for decades has shuttered shorelines from Imperial Beach to Coronado.
Supervisors Nora Vargas and Terra Lawson-Renner urged the White House to take action at Tuesday’s public hearing.
“What we’re asking here is really just for the federal government to step up and provide the funding to ensure families, businesses and visitors in this community have clean water,” said Vargas, whose District 1 includes Imperial Beach.
The vote came just weeks after mayors from across the region sent a letter to the federal government requesting federal aid, declaring it “the most urgent environmental justice issue in San Diego County.”
Sewage spilling over the border has continued to close beaches as problems related to the issue have heightened, according to local officials.
A hundred billion gallons of sewage-tainted water has flowed into the San Diego region through the Tijuana River since 2018, according to the U.S section of the International Boundary and Water Commission.
“It’s a basic human right to be able to have clean water and have a clean environment,” Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre recently told the Union-Tribune. “We’re frankly tired and fed up of seeing all of San Diego, not just Imperial Beach, suffer.”
The southern shores of Imperial Beach have been closed for more than 560 consecutive days, according to Aguirre. Coronado has seen its shoreline off limits to swimmers for weeks on end this year, including over Memorial Day weekend.
With the July 4 weekend approaching, officials fear that visitors will have increased exposure to the contaminated waters despite warning signs, putting themselves as well as lifeguards at risk.
“We’re going to have to do our duty and act to make sure everybody gets home safe while risking our health and well-being every single day on the frontline of this pollution crisis,” Imperial Beach lifeguard Ashley Hedrick told elected leaders on Tuesday.
Alizeh Munaver is a member of the U-T Community Journalism Scholars Program.