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Baja Sewage Spill Flowed For Weeks Without Notice

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Video published January 21, 2011 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: A sewage spill in Playas de Tijuana just south of the border with Mexico reached imperial beach weeks ago, but residents only found out about it recently. The 31 million gallon spill is expected to be contained Friday. We speak to Ben McCue, conservation director for Wildcoast about the implications of this spill on San Diego.

A sewage spill in Playas de Tijuana just south of the border with Mexico reached imperial beach weeks ago, but residents only found out about it recently. The 31 million gallon spill has yet to be contained. Joining me now to discuss the implications of this spill is Ben McCue he is Conservation Director for WILDCOAST.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

A SEWAGE SPILL IN PLYAS, TIJUANA, SOUTH OF THE BORDER WITH MEXICO REACHED IMPERIAL BEACH WEEKS AGO. BUT RESIDENTS ONLY FOUND OUT ABOUT IT RECENTLY. THE 31 MILLION-GALLON SPILL HAS YET TO BE CONTAINED. JOINING ME NOW TO DISCUSS THE IMPLICATIONS OF THIS BILL IS BEN McCUE, CONSERVATION DIRECTOR FOR WILD COAST. SO WHAT CAUSED THIS SEWAGE SPILL, BEN?

THERE WAS A BREAK IN A SEWAGE PIPE IN TIJUANA, AND THAT BREAK REALLY WASN'T DISCOVERED BY AUTHORITIES FOR QUITE SOME TIME.

HOW COME --COULD IT NOT HAVE BEEN DISCOVERED?

RESIDENTS OBVIOUSLY KNEW WHAT WAS GOING ON AND THEY COULD SEE THAT SEWAGE AND ENDED UP ON THEIR BEACH AND OCEAN. THEIR CALLS TO AUTHORITIES WEREN'T --THEY WEREN'T RESPONDED TO FOR A COUPLE WEEKS AT LEAST, AND IT KIND OF FELL DURING A TIME WHEN THERE WERE HOLIDAYS IN MEXICO AND I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE WERE ON VACATION.

INTERESTING. SO WHAT KIND OF IMPACT DOES THIS BILL HAVE ON SAN DIEGO?

ON SAN DIEGO THAT'S STILL BEING DETERMINED. BUT THE BIGGEST PROBLEM IS A LACK OF NOTIFICATION IN TERMS OF THE SEWAGE SPILL, WHERE AUTHORITIES FEDERAL, STATE, LOCAL AUTHORITIES, LIFEGUARDS, DIDN'T KNOW THAT THERE WAS SEWAGE SPILL IN TIJUANA. THERE WAS LESS THAN TWO MILES FROM IMPERIAL BEACH AND IT COULD IN FACT WATER QUALITY AND OCEAN USEERS.

SO WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT IS A COMMUNICATION GAP BETWEEN WHAT IS GOING ON IN TIJUANA AND WHAT IS GOING ON IN SAN DIEGO, WITH THE AUTHORITIES.

THAT IS THE REAL ISSUE. SEWAGE SPILLS AND FROM THE TIJUANA RIVER, BEACH CLOSURES, IS REALLY NOTHING NEW FOR OUR BORDER BEACHES. BUT THE FACT THAT THERE WAS NO PUBLIC NOTIFICATION, THAT IS A BIG DEAL THAT NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED.

HAS IT NOT BEEN ADDRESSED AT ALL? I MEAN, IS THERE ANY IMPROVEMENT OR ANY CHANGE YOU EXPECT.

WE DO EXPECT SOME CHANGE. THERE WAS A GOOD MEETING LAST NIGHT OF THE INTERNATIONAL BOUNDARY AND WATER COMMISSION, WHERE WE DISCUSSED A NEW TREATY AGREEMENT, A NEW MINUTE, WITH THE TREATY BETWEEN THE U.S. IS MEXICO, TALKING ABOUT THE NECESSARY COMMUNICATION TO PROTECT PUBLIC HEALTH FROM SHARED ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES.

HAS THIS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE, TALKS OF THIS SORT, TALKING ABOUT REPAIRING COMMUNICATIONS AS WELL AS THE SEWER PIPE?

IT HAS HAPPENED MANY TIMES BEFORE, BUT THE FACT THAT IT REALLY CAME DOWN TO AN EVENT LIKE THIS IS CLEAR THAT THERE WAS A BREAK IN COMMUNICATION. SO WE NEED TO TO GO BACK AND REVISIT THAT COMMUNICATION AND BETWEEN THE AUTHORITIES AND BEYOND THE AUTHORITIES, WHAT -- COMMUNICATION BETWEEN LOCAL NON- PROFITS, COMMUNITY GROUPS, IS ALSO CRITICALLY IMPORTANT.

WHEN DO YOU THINK IT'S ALL GOING TO HAPPEN?

WELL, WE'RE WORKING ON IT RIGHT NOW. THERE'S ACTUALLY A MEETING TODAY IN TIJUANA, WITH THE COMMITTEE AS CLEAN BEACHES, WHERE THEY WILL BE DISCUSSING EXACTLY HOW LOCAL GROUPS, RESIDENTS, CAN COMMUNICATE MORE EFFECTIVELY WITH AUTHORITIES.

WE'RE TALKING ABOUT A BROKEN SEWER PIPE. SO ARE WE NOT CONCERNED ABOUT IMPROVING THE INFRASTRUCTURE OF THE SEWAGE TREATMENT ON BOTH SIDES OF BORDER.

THAT'S A CRITICAL CONCERN TOO, AND WE KNOW THAT TIJUANA DOES LACK SIGNIFICANT INFRASTRUCTURE FOR SEWAGE COLLECTION AND TREATMENT. THAT'S REALLY NOTHING NEW, AND THEY'RE WORKING TO IMPROVE THAT RIGHT NOW. AND ACTUALLY, THE RESPONSE OF THE MUNICIPAL AUTHORITIES TO THIS BILL WAS INCREDIBLE, THE QUALITY OF PIPING THEY JUST PUT IN AND THE AMOUNT OF PEOPLE AND CREWS THEY HAD WORKING ON IT. BUT THE SIGNIFICANT DELAY AND THE PUBLIC NOTIFICATION, THAT'S REALLY THE CRUX OF THE ISSUE.

THE FIRST PART IS ENCOURAGING. WHAT IS THE ROLL OF WILD COAST IN ALL OF THIS?

WE'RE KIND EVERY TRYING TO WORK AS A BRIDGE IN BETWEEN AUTHORITIES ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BORDER, AND WE'RE ALSO TRYING TO CREATE A SUCCESSFUL NETWORK OF COMMUNITY GROUPS AND NON-PROFITS ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BORDER, IN SAN DIEGO AND IN TIJUANA, SO WE CAN REALLY STRENGTHEN COMMUNICATIONS BETWEEN THE GROUPS AND POTENTIALLY NON-PROFIT GROUPS LIKE WILD COAST AND GROUPS IN TIJUANA CAN SERVE AS THE WATCHDOGS OF THESE BORDER ISSUES.

JUST BRIEFLY, BEN, WHEN DO YOU EXPECT THE PIPE TO BE REPAIRED?

IT SHOULD BE REPAIRED TODAY.

OH!

THAT'S WHAT ALL THE AUTHORITIES ARE SAYING. THE PUBLIC HEALTH AUTHORITIES TOOK QUARTER QUALITY SAMPLES IN TIJUANA ON WEDNESDAY. THOSE CAME BACK YESTERDAY. AND THEN FOUND THAT FIVE OUT OF SIX SAMPLES EXCEEDED HEALTH STANDARDS.

OKAY. THANK YOU VERY MUCH, BEN McCUE.

MY PLEASURE. THANK YOU.

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