Members of San Diego's congressional delegation are asking the U.S. Dept. of the Navy to release data that may reveal the true effects the Tijuana sewage crisis has had on Naval operations.
On Jan. 23, Reps. Juan Vargas, Scott Peters, Sara Jacobs, Darrell Issa and Mike Levin wrote a letter to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro requesting statistics for 2022 and 2023.
They specifically want to know how many times training or operations have been suspended or relocated because of beach closures, the costs of having to relocate or halt operations and how often personnel are raising concerns about sickness or injuries — and the type — after coming in contact with contaminated water and sand. Additionally, they asked how the Navy has been collecting this information.
In February 2023, the Navy said that the number of in-water training sessions canceled at the Silver Strand Training Complex in Coronado went from none in 2021 to more than 20 in 2022, the Congressional delegation said in its letter.
Coronado is home to the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command and neighbors Imperial Beach. For months on end, their shorelines were shut down because untreated wastewater repeatedly spills over the border from Mexico. And when it rains, pollution is flushed through the Tijuana River and into the South County region.
"These flows have impacted water quality at beaches in our region — including those where Navy Seals regularly train," the letter says. "If the pollution in the ( Tijuana River Valley) is not addressed, we are concerned that further training cancellations due to water quality concerns could harm the Navy and our military readiness."
Brian O'Rourke, Navy Region Southwest spokesperson, said Friday that when the county issues a water advisory because of poor water quality, "in-water training evolutions are delayed, moved or canceled to mitigate any potential impact in accordance with our established risk management protocols."
"Like local citizens who work and swim in local waters, the Navy does have some concern regarding the amount of sewage and debris that pollutes the south San Diego County coastline, causes erosion, damages natural resources and impacts the health and well-being of our community," he added.
Similarly, U.S. Border Patrol agents have raised concerns about the health risks of working in often polluted terrain in the Tijuana River Valley.
Officials will use the data to further build their case for why funding is urgently needed to fix and expand a dilapidated wastewater facility in San Diego that treats sewage from Mexico.
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.