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Assembly Votes Border Sewage Bill but Governor’s Doubtful

Times Staff Writer

In a 69-0 vote, the Assembly on Friday passed and sent to the Senate a $157.5-million plan by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown to clean up sewage and toxic pollution along the Mexican border.

But in a clear signal that Brown’s comprehensive cleanup plan still has a way to go before it is enacted, Gov. George Deukmejian announced that he had vetoed the $7.5-million backup appropriation for the Tijuana River cleanup from the state budget.

The budget veto is not an absolute death knell because Brown’s bill, as it passed the Assembly Friday, also includes a $7.5-million appropriation to clean up the Tijuana and New rivers, and to install emergency sewage control measures.

But as he has indicated all along, Deukmejian said in his budget message that Mexico and the federal government, not the state, should be “resolving this problem.”

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“We’ve put in about $5 million already,” Deukmejian said after a speech Friday at the American Legion’s state convention in San Diego.

“We are certainly willing to be helpful and cooperative. But at the same time, we don’t feel that this is the entire responsibility of the state.”

Deukmejian would not say whether he will sign Brown’s cleanup bill if it reaches his desk.

Brown’s bill, which is co-authored by the entire San Diego County delegation, also authorizes a $150-million bond issue for border pollution problems. Partly in response to Administration concerns, the additional appropriations in the bill have been pared down from $26 million to a total of $7.5 million.

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Brown and other backers of the border cleanup measure have agreed with Deukmejian that the two national governments should be taking the lead role in dealing with the problem.

But they say it is a decades-old problem on which little has been done.

Backers of the bill also have charged that plans for future projects are inadequate and that the two national governments can’t even agree on them in the first place.

Brown has contended that the millions of gallons of untreated sewage that flows into California from Mexican border towns poses a monumental public health threat that should not be ignored.

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The state, he said, cannot afford to allow the continued devastation of beaches, rivers, farms and canyons in San Diego and Imperial counties.

Tijuana and Mexicali, growing Mexican border towns with a combined population of nearly 2 million, have inadequate or nonexistent sewage treatment facilities for most of their populated areas.

Since the mid-1960s, much of the sewage from Tijuana has been treated in San Diego’s municipal treatment system.

Officials estimate that 15 million gallons of Mexican sewage is treated daily in San Diego’s system, and an additional 30 million gallons of untreated or inadequately treated sewage pollutes the border area.

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As a result, San Diego County’s southernmost beaches are frequently quarantined.


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