U.S. Water News Online
SAN DIEGO — The commission responsible for cleaning runaway sewage along the U.S.-Mexico border said it will upgrade a government wastewater plant in California instead of paying a private developer to build a new treatment facility across the border in Tijuana, Mexico.
The decision by the International Boundary and Water Commission appears to end a decade-long gambit by Bajagua LLC to win hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. contracts to pump partially treated wastewater back to Mexico.
The commission said in a statement that expanding the plant it operates in San Diego's San Ysidro area, abutting the border, would be cheaper and faster.
The IBWC is under federal court order to bring Mexican wastewater that runs through California on its way to the Pacific Ocean to U.S. clean-water standards by Sept. 30 but is seeking an extension. It said expansion of the San Diego plant will be finished by January 2011.
"We are ready to move forward with construction to complete the upgrade as soon as possible," said Commissioner Carlos Marin in a statement.
A Bajagua spokesman said the company will propose a scaled-down version of their Tijuana plant to the IBWC that would get the partially treated water from the San Diego plant and sell it to customers in Mexico.
"At the end of the day, we can do what we initially said we were going to do," said spokesman Craig Benedetto.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., applauded the IBWC decision.
"Now it is incumbent upon the IBWC to demonstrate progress by selecting a builder and beginning construction as soon as possible," she said.
The IBWC has estimated the project will cost $101.5 million. Congress has already approved $66 million for the project.
The expansion aims to remedy shortcomings of the $240 million plant the agency built in the late 1990s, which failed to satisfy the federal Clean Water Act, prompting a lawsuit from a California regional water board.
Bajagua, founded by San Diego land-use consultant Jim Simmons and Mexican real-estate developer Enrique Landa, had proposed building the Tijuana plant for $195.6 million to sell water pumped from the San Diego plant to thirsty Mexican factories.
The plan wasn't initially embraced by federal agencies. The company, which stepped up its campaign donations, won strong backing from most of San Diego's congressional delegation, despite opposition from some environmental groups.
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