It is no secret that all over the country critical infrastructure is struggling to keep up after years of deferred maintenance and foregone expansion plans. While a potential $1 trillion infrastructure revitalization plan is being discussed, a key to making infrastructure better can be found right here in San Diego and along the rest of the U.S.-Mexico border — the North American Development Bank (NADB).
A binational institution established alongside the North American Free Trade Agreement, NADB helps communities develop and finance environmental infrastructure relating to water, solid waste and transportation to improve the quality of life in border communities. Over the past 25 years, the bank has participated in water and wastewater projects worth more than $138 million in the Tijuana-Rosarito region. NADB has and continues to help to reduce wastewater pollution, provide clean energy to regions in need, and assist with road paving and other projects that have an environmental benefit.
In the San Diego-Tijuana region, we are playing a major role in finding a lasting solution for the environmental and water quality issues impacting the Cali-Baja region. Prior to the heavy rains of 2017 that resulted in transboundary flows, the bank was proactive in working with the Tijuana water utility to develop a long-term capital improvements plan. More recently, NADB has kicked off a study to analyze infrastructure needed to prevent transboundary flows from reaching the Pacific Ocean and will soon initiate a study related to upgrades needed at the San Antonio de los Buenos wastewater treatment plant.
For years, the Tijuana River channel has been at the mercy of trash flows washing downstream. But now compounding the issue is an aging wastewater system, urbanization and topography with few environmental safeguards. Separate from the short-term fixes already proposed, infrastructure investments of almost $330 million are needed to address this problem. Aside from small emergency repairs, these projects remain largely unfunded with no clear way to find a full and long-term solution.
While the most recent government funding bill passed by Congress includes $10 million to continue the border infrastructure efforts of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency thanks to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, there is no guarantee of funding in future packages. While the grant program is providing much needed relief for other communities, the levels of need in Tijuana — but also Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, and Naco, Sonora — demand a larger solution.
The biggest bang for the buck would be to capitalize the North American Development Bank, a bipartisan effort led by Sens. Feinstein and John Cornyn, R-Texas, as well as San Diego House Democrats Juan Vargas, Scott Peters and Susan Davis, and Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and Will Hurd, R-Texas. While the president’s budget requests additional capitalization of $10 million dollars, their voice on this matter could help unlock additional funds and fully unleash the power of the bank to address these serious environmental concerns. I am personally grateful to these elected officials for their leadership in addressing this issue.
Since the bank was founded, we have leveraged $405 million in funding to $2.35 billion in loans and grants, providing real infrastructure worth almost $8.2 billion. That is a 1:20 leverage ratio, meaning less government funding upfront and greater availability of cost-effective funds, easing the financial burden to help address the problem in Tijuana and a faster timeline for San Diego beaches to recover.
With additional capital, the bank can continue to grow its current contribution toward environmental quality throughout the border region. Projects funded by the bank are helping to clean rivers by treating over 316 million of gallons per day of sewage, to displace nearly 3.19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, and to pave or rehabilitate roadways in 14 communities. Overall, the bank has completed 199 projects to date, helping neglected communities access fresh drinking water and other basic services all along the border.
The momentum for a real fix to the water-quality issues in San Diego and Tijuana exists, but we need to work together to capitalize on this opportunity.
The North American Development Bank is more than just a powerful tool that can help revitalize the region, it is a driving force that can help resolve this decades-long problem and do so in the most efficient way possible. With continued support from both Sen. Feinstein and House members Vargas, Peters and Davis, the North American Development Bank can finally start working toward a long-term fix for this environmental blight.