A local community organization called the Spring Valley Cleanup Crew has been hosting events to remove waste from the Tijuana River Valley throughout the summer. They held a cleanup action on August 7 and a protest on August 9 in Chula Vista. Demands for officials at all levels of government to work with the community to clean the Tijuana River have been ignored thus far.
The Tijuana River has one of California’s most polluted estuaries. During the rainy season, sewage and trash washes across the U.S.-Mexico border into the Tijuana River Valley and eventually empties directly into the Pacific Ocean.
Community demands more funding and immediate action
On August 9, several protesters gathered outside the office of Democrat Rep. Juan Vargas. Spring Valley Cleanup Crew is demanding Juan Vargas draft legislation to double the $300 million allocated to the Environmental Protection Agency for cleaning and repairing the infrastructure of the Tijuana River Valley. The San Diego Sunrise Movement and Party for Socialism and Liberation were also in attendance and echoed the demands of the Spring Valley Cleanup Crew.
Liberation News interviewed Victoria Abrenica, founding organizer for Spring Valley Cleanup Crew. Abrenica told us, “$300 million would be able to cover either [cleaning up] the sewage and toxins that are already in the water or it could [be used to] prevent more sewage from entering our water. But $300 million will not be able to address all the problems facing the river.”
Protestors gave speeches and shouted chants in front of Vargas’s office starting at around 8:30 a.m. For hours they used noise-making instruments and in unison chanted, “What do we want? Clean water! When do we want it? Now!” and “Ain’t no power like the power of the people because the power of the people don’t stop!”
Following speeches from attending organizations, activists promised to continue their bi-weekly cleanups and organizing to expose inaction from public officials.
Doing the government’s job
The Spring Valley Cleanup Crew led more than a dozen community members into action for a cleanup on August 7. Other organizations, including the Party for Socialism and Liberation and Sunrise Movement San Diego were also in attendance.
Donning shovels, buckets, bags, gloves and N95 masks, volunteers collected hundreds of pounds of trash. Volunteers also removed dozens of tires protruding from the river bed.
The efforts by the Spring Valley Cleanup Crew have been gaining momentum and press coverage, even in capitalist media. Due to mounting public pressure, the County Board of Supervisors in San Diego unanimously agreed to declare a public health crisis in the region, but did not take material action to address this urgent issue or to close public campgrounds. Officials urge calm and patience while stating that construction plans to address this environmental problem will not begin for at least two more years, if not three to four.
The Spring Valley Clean Up Crew affirms that this timeline does not meet the urgency of the problem at hand and have pushed two central demands for elected representatives. First, they demand that government officials declare a state of emergency and act on it. Secondly, that the County Supervisors create plans to address the public health crisis in coordination with the EPA.
In April, San Diego County District 1 Supervisor Nora Vargas acknowledged serious problems regarding sewage and water contamination within the valley before reassuring her constituents, “What’s important to note is that the soil has been tested and it is safe for our communities.”
Water and soil tests carried out by University of California San Diego PhD student Adam Cooper have indicated the presence of pesticides, pharmaceuticals and even illicit drugs, such as methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, just a half mile away from official campgrounds that were reopened to the public.
State representatives and County Board members have been personally invited to participate in these community-led cleanups and to engage in dialogue with organizers. They have so far refused to attend or take action on community demands.
Following the cleanup on August 7, local volunteer Essence McConnell closed the day with some words of encouragement: “The point isn’t to shame people that use single-use plastic, but to encourage education about this issue that affects us all. If the government isn’t going to do anything, then it is up to us to take action.”
Featured image – Tires and trash collected from the Tijuana River Valley on August 7. Liberation photo: Carter Lum