U.S., Mexico Reach Accord on Solution to Sewage Problem

Times Staff Writer

The Inter-American Development Bank is expected to approve a $46.4-million loan to Mexico today that includes the first written agreement by Mexico to build a sewage treatment system in Tijuana.

The United States and Mexico had delayed a vote on the loan--to be used to expand Tijuana's drinking water system--for five weeks while the two sides negotiated over the sewage issue. U.S. officials say the waterworks project eventually will produce twice as much sewage in Tijuana, and they had threatened to vote against Mexico unless the loan addressed the sewage problem.

Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) met Tuesday in Washington with Mexican Ambassador Jorge Espinosa de los Reyes to discuss the loan and told reporters afterward: "We received assurances that our concerns will be adequately dealt with."

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Coronado), who also was in contact with officials from the IDB, U.S. State Department and Mexico, said in a telephone interview, "I think there will be a vote and the U.S., I believe, will vote in the affirmative. I think we are going to see some construction here shortly."

Mexican and U.S. officials apparently agreed on a draft accord Friday, and continued fine tuning the loan language into the night Tuesday.

The IDB is an international organization, similar to the World Bank, that works to promote the economic and social development of Latin America. Besides most countries in North and South America, its members include Britain and Japan. Its headquarters is in Washington.

Spokesmen from the State and Treasury departments and the IDB could not be reached for comment on the negotiations surrounding the approval of the loan.

But according to aides to Wilson and Hunter, the loan agreement includes stipulations that Mexico will:

- Build a sewage treatment plant in western Tijuana within two years. If Mexico falls behind on construction, disbursement of funds can be slowed or halted. "Funding will be tied to progress on construction," Wilson aide Francisco Herrera said.

- Conduct an environmental impact study on the effects that a second sewage treatment plant could have on the Tijuana River, which flows into the United States. Mexico has proposed building a facility within five years in eastern Tijuana at the juncture of the Alamar and Tijuana rivers.

- Submit, within 12 months of the effective date of the loan, plans for the design and construction of the eastern plant.

- Operate and maintain the treatment facilities.

Hunter said the agreement also will allow the IDB to monitor maintenance of the sewage system for 14 years.

Tijuana currently produces nearly 20 million gallons of sewage daily and has no sewage treatment system. San Diego treats about 13 million gallons of Tijuana sewage daily under an emergency agreement, and the rest of the raw effluent is dumped into the ocean.

Last fall, the United States presented Mexico with a plan to build a binational sewage treatment plant in the United States. Mexico responded with its own plan to build two plants using aeration ponds in Tijuana within five years.

Mexico is not legally bound to negotiate with the United States over a sewage treatment facility in its own country, but has been willing to do so.

The United States is seeking two additional agreements, one under the International Boundary and Water Commission, which handles the nuts and bolts of border water and sewage problems, and another under an accord signed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Miguel de la Madrid in La Paz, Mexico, in August, 1983. The La Paz agreement sets up the framework for the two governments to attempt to resolve border environmental problems.

"We have to give the Mexican government their due," Hunter said. "They put these provisions in the loan themselves. They could have passed the loan with no conditions."

Mexico did not need the U.S. vote to get the loan, but the United States has never opposed Mexico at the bank. Both sides said they did not want a "no" vote by the United States. In a letter to Hunter and Wilson, James W. Conrow, deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury, outlined the loan agreement.

"The IDB will review the plans and budget for the eastern system to be constructed in future years," the letter says.

"The linkage between construction of the sewage treatment works and the IDB project is firm. Not more than half of the IDB loan can be disbursed before the sewage treatment works west of Tijuana are completed.

"The IDB has assured that to meet its standards maintenance and repairs would have to be carried out in a timely manner. We are satisfied that regular prolonged breaks in the system would constitute a deviation from the requirements of the IDB contract."

U.S. officials have been concerned about the proposed eastern plant, on the Tijuana River. They say they fear that any malfunction in the plant would result in untreated sewage flowing into the United States.

The United States has pushed Mexico to allow U.S. engineers to assist with repairs in the event of a break in the Tijuana sewage system, but that stipulation was not included in the loan agreement.

Herrera said U.S. officials still hope to include that in an IBWC accord.

Times staff writer Zack Nauth in Washington contributed to this story.

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