The Longest Running Environmental Disaster in the United States:
Can You Smell It?
By Carolina London
Published: September 8th, 2022 11:45PM PST
Tijuana is a coastal city located in Mexico with a population of 1.9 million people (Data Mexico). The name "Tijuana" comes from the Kumeyaay word Tiwan, which means “by the sea” and by the sea it is. With near-perfect weather and gorgeous beaches, it is no wonder that Tijuana and its neighbor to the north, San Diego, are top tourist destinations and in demand for those looking to relocate to a milder climate. However, there is a foul stench that has been stinking up the waters along the coast. What is causing this stench? Well, this investigative report will dive deep into the past to uncover why the most southwestern city in the continental United States and the westernmost city in Mexico are dealing with one of the largest and possibly longest ongoing environmental disasters in North America.
First, you need to know some background information. Tijuana, Baja California and San Diego, California weren’t always international neighbors. In fact, the recorded history of the region goes back to 1542 when Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, a Portuguese explorer contracted by the Spanish crown, landed in San Diego Bay making him the first European in San Diego. Before 1542 San Diego was undiscovered by Europeans and inhabited by the Kumeyaay, who were natives to the region. Interestingly, it took 227 years before any Europeans returned. In 1769 the first building, Mission San Diego Alcala, was constructed by the Spanish Franciscan Friars in San Diego atop Presidio Hill. This landmark is sometimes referred to as the “Plymouth Rock of the West” since it is the first establishment on the west coast of the United States. Now, it wasn’t until Mexico gained its independence from Spain on September 27, 1821 that Tijuana become a part of Mexico. Soon after, the establishment of Tijuana as a Mexican ranch began in 1825 when Santiago Argüello won a land grant from the Mexican government and built a ranch called Tia Juana. Interestingly, Argüello was also given Mission San Diego Alcala on June 8, 1846 by the Governor, Don Pio de Jesus Pico, who governed over the newly formed California Republic that sought to separate itself from Mexico. However, this gift from the governor was short lived as the Mexican-American war was ongoing and U.S. Lieutenant John C. Fremont landed in San Diego on July 29, 1846, where he quickly and peacefully occupied San Diego and raised the U.S. flag the next day and making San Diego a part of the U.S. (San Diego Historical Society). Two years later on July 4, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo become law. This treaty determined the new boundaries between the United States and Mexico along Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Article two of the treaty required the establishment of a binational commission, run by both representatives of the U.S. and Mexico, in order to resolve boundary and other issues on the border (US National Archives). It wasn’t until The Convention of 1889 that the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), formally the International Boundary Commission (IBC), was established to apply boundary and water treaties between the US and Mexico and settle any disputes that arose in their application (IBWC). The establishment of the IBWC in 1889 was a direct result of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and today the IBWC is operated by the U.S. Department of State. Although both cities began as one region their history divided them over time. It is this separation of Tijuana from San Diego that sealed the fate of each city to grow and develop vital infrastructure based on the new governing bodies and laws enacted after the Mexican-American War.
From the end of the Mexican-American War in 1846 until 1889 Tijuana remained Rancho Tia Juana with no planned development towards becoming a city. It wasn’t until 1889 that the descendants of Argüello decided to begin the development of Tijuana. The City of Tijuana was officially established on July 11, 1889. The decision to build the city was most likely made as a result of the short-lived Baja California Gold Rush which began six months prior. It began in December of 1888 with Bacillo Padilla who discovered gold in the Santa Clara Mountains some 60 miles southeast of Ensenada (San Diego History Center). This discovery brought many fortune seekers to Tijuana as the city became a stopping point along the stagecoach lines to Ensenada. However, the city didn’t begin to boom until the 1920s during the prohibition of alcohol in the U.S., which lasted from 1920 to 1933. More importantly, the building of the Agua Caliente Casino and Hotel Resort in 1928 put Tijuana on the map. It opened as one of the best resorts in the world and even had a race track, airstrip, and golf course. The resort attracted Hollywood celebrities who were looking for a place to drink, gamble, and relax during U.S. prohibition, and Tijuana was the closest resort where it could be done legally and in luxury. However, the infrastructure was not quite ready for this influx of tourists and residents. To give you an idea, take a look at the population of Tijuana. It was less than 300 in 1900, 1,000 in 1915, and by 1928 there were over 5,000 residents. The city continued to grow through the 1930s and by 1940 the population had reached over 16,000 residents. The city didn’t stop there and by 1950 that population more than tripled with over 59,000 residents residing in the young city. With the passing of 30 more years, the population grew to almost half a million residents in 1980. Today, the population of Tijuana is 1.9 million as it more than doubled since 1980.
• https://voiceofsandiego.org/2022/07/07/vargas-jacobs-try-new-route-to-spend-300-million-on-tijuana-pollution-fix/ • https://voiceofsandiego.org/2022/03/28/tijuana-sewage-fix-makes-presidents-budget/
• https://apnews.com/article/business-us-environmental-protection-agency-san-diego-mexico-pollution-c88f63956525f87ab84441a04f0f657e • https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-announces-two-near-term-clean-water-projects-tijuana-river