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:
- Will produce the best effluent quality of all the alternatives being
- Will cost an estimated $100 million less to construct than the currently
- Can be built within the same area confines of the site selected for
the currently proposed plant.
- Can be built in the same amount of time required to complete the currently
- Will have operation and maintenance costs 1/3 lower than the currently
(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.