South Bay sewage treatment plant update

by Chris Klein
ice President Al Gore was in San Diego last month to celebrate the groundbreaking for the new, binational sewage treatment plant in South Bay. Local dignitaries included Mayor Susan Golding and Representatives Lynn Schenk and Bob Filner.
The International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), responsible for building the $240 million plant, plans to begin construction this month. The plant will be located in the Tijuana River Valley at the junction of Dairy Mart and Monument roads.
If local environmental leaders have their way, the work will proceed, but not as currently planned.

A better way

The San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, Chaparral Greens, and Lori Saldaña have filed a lawsuit to compel consideration of alternative technology for sewage treatment for the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant. Defendants named in the suit were the IBWC, the EPA, California State Water Resources Control Board, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The alternative technology, known as the Lagoon or Pond System, was evaluated by a panel of scientists assembled by the EPA. The EPA scientists evaluated a proposed lagoon system against data collected from 7 currently operating lagoon system sewage treatment plants in California. The EPA scientists concluded that the Pond System:
(Engineering Feasibility Team Study; Advanced Integrated Pond System International Wastewater Treatment Plant, San Diego, California, April 25, 1994).
The plaintiffs assert that the Lagoon/Pond System was not even considered as an alternative by the IBWC, notwithstanding the clear recommendation of the EPA experts.
With respect to the currently proposed design, the EPA scientists concluded that "the plant cannot be completed 'economically' within the proposed schedule," thatit "will produce poorer quality effluent then the ponds," and "it will allow soluble toxic compounds to be discharged directly to the ocean." The unique "gyre" current located in the area of the proposed ocean outfall, and well documented by the EPA in its suit against the City of San Diego, will cause these toxins to wash back to the beach. All this for $100 million more.
"We are not here to delay in any way the construction of the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant," says Gary Sirota, lead council for the Surfrider Foundation. "The Surfrider Foundation and its members are painfully aware of the over 200 days of beach closures yearly and human health risk in this area. Our suit seeks to promote the timely construction of a sewage treatment plant that will be the solution to pollution once and for all in the South Bay, with proven technology that will save the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars."
In politics, the temptation to "bring home the bacon" usually overrules ecological alternatives and common sense. It remains to be if this project will be an issue for the candidates in this November's election.