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Rep. Darrell Issa serves California's 48th congressional district. Public domain photo.
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Issa calls on water commission to explain cost overruns

REGION — Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Fallbrook, has sent a letter to the Commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission addressing what he describes as cost overruns and lack of transparency around the efforts to fix sewage infrastructure on the border, and Issa’s office has initiated an investigation to better understand the operation.

Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom reiterated the need for Congress to approve $310 million that President Joe Biden included in his emergency supplemental appropriations bill to address contamination in the Tijuana River Valley – specifically the South Bay International Wastewater Plant, which is a federal facility on federal land.

“I enthusiastically support the completion of this vital project – but we can’t ignore our obligations to pursue accountability for taxpayers,” Issa wrote in the letter sent to the commission on Monday. “We simply cannot overlook IBWC’s failure to oversee the proper maintenance and management of this facility and its unsupported requests for hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding with no end in sight.”

While the region has spent money to improve storm water infrastructure, half of the $300 million in requested federal funds will go toward upgrades and deferred maintenance, rather than expanding the wastewater treatment plant, the County Board of Supervisors said last year.

Extensive documentation by the USIBWC has found “that since 2018, more than 100 billion gallons of toxic effluent have entered the United States through the Tijuana River,” and “an alarming 35 billion gallons have crossed the international border flowing north from another broken sewage treatment plant in Punta Bandera” since Dec. 28, 2022, which impacts the San Diego coastline during the summer.

Issa claims that since deferred maintenance on trans-border infrastructure was not clearly disclosed, the commission didn’t provide any rationale for another several hundred million in funding requests.

“Such negligence prompted my office to initiate an investigation to understand why these maintenance needs were not previously shared and to better understand the changes needed to ensure these problems are not repeated moving forward,” Issa wrote in his letter.

Newsom, in his request to Congress to approve the funding, said it was long overdue.

“It is the federal government’s responsibility to complete the capital improvements to the facility that are required to stop the ongoing harmful discharges into the marine environment that are impacting public health, the local economy, and ecosystems and species in coastal communities,” he wrote. “Southern California communities have suffered from this crisis for far too long, impacting the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people and U.S. Navy Seal special operation forces who train in those waters.

“Congress must act quickly to approve the president’s proposal and provide this much needed, urgent funding,” Newsom wrote.

More than 300,000 Californians live in proximity to the polluted river. Studies by local researchers have found negative health impacts from not only the water itself but the aerosolized spray from the ocean.

January’s storm was a stark reminder of the failure of some of the region’s infrastructure, with state agencies estimating more than 14.5 billion gallons of raw sewage flowed from Mexico into California as a result of heavy rains.

Newsom’s administration has invested $32.2 million in state funding to help clean up the area, a statement from the governor’s office read.

Issa represents California’s 48th Congressional District.

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