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Environment

Sewage-contaminated water doesn't keep some beachgoers out of the ocean

Signs next to the Imperial Beach Pier warn people to stay out of the water. But people were swimming in the ocean anyway.

According to the county, beach closures occur when water-testing results show bacterial levels that exceed state health standards and can cause illness. The high levels of bacteria can be caused by sewage releases or cross-border flow.

Alexander Bergmann is visiting from Austria and said he wasn’t worried about swimming in contaminated water.

“No, not at all. So I think that it should not be much of an issue,” Bergmann said.  

Bergmann and fellow traveler Joanna Valavanoglou say they have been surfing in the contaminated water.

“We’ve been here for a couple of days, and no illness has caught us yet,” Valavanoglou said. “So we’re looking forward to the next days, as well.”  

Lifeguards are doing their best to patrol up and down the coast of Imperial Beach, warning people about the risks of swimming in sewage-contaminated water.

They also broadcast warning announcements through their PA system.

Though local surfers are braving the water they’ve been surfing for years, some tourists have mixed feelings about the warning signs of sewage contamination.

Sue Pleger is from Colorado and is in town visiting family.

“I was just kind of surprised and amazed. We came for vacation here, and we’re not going in the water,” Pleger said. “I took a picture to send to our friends back in Colorado to tell them: ‘We came all this way and we’re just not going in!’”  

The county’s Department of Environmental Health and Quality conducts droplet digital polymerase chain reaction (ddPCR) tests at about 45 beaches every day. It counts the enterococcus DNA fragments present in the water sample.

Before heading to the coast, beachgoers are encouraged to go to sdbeachinfo.com to get updates on beach closures and answers to any questions about sewage contamination.