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Massive sewage flow fouls South Bay beaches

Pollution warning sign posted in Imperial Beach near the southern end of Seacoast Drive on Jan. 31, 2020.
Erik Anderson
Pollution warning sign posted in Imperial Beach near the southern end of Seacoast Drive on Jan. 31, 2020.

More than 560 million gallons of storm-driven and sewage tainted water flows into the U.S.

The rainstorm that deluged San Diego County earlier this week also pushed a massive amount of sewage tainted water through the Tijuana River Valley.

Federal officials estimate more than 563 million gallons of polluted water flowed across the U.S.-Mexico border and into the Tijuana River Valley.

RELATED: EPA Considers Projects To Fix Cross-Border Pollution Flows

Massive sewage flow fouls South Bay beaches
Listen to this story by Erik Anderson.

Surfrider Foundation’s Laura Walsh called the situation shocking.

South Bay residents have endured increasingly larger cross border flows for the past few year. Daily flows regularly topped 50 million gallons earlier this year although those had tapered off after some sewage containment projects in Mexico were completed this past spring.

Last year, sewage flows forced San Diego County officials to post pollution warning signs in Imperial Beach for more than 240 days.

The International Boundary and Water Commission runs the border region’s wastewater treatment plant and is in charge of cross-border pollution issues.

“The Mexican pump station CILA in Tijuana was shut off because of rainfall on October 4th and was then restarted on October 7th,” said Sally Spener of the IBWC.


RELATED: EPA Close To Picking Cross-Border Sewage Fix, But Help Remains Far Off

That pump usually diverts sewage tainted flows away from the border.

“That’s what happens,” said David Gibson of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. “It shows why something needs to be done, but it is not unexpected during a major rain event.”

Gibson did say he was pleased the pump station was only offline for three days, because it has been turned off for weeks and months at a time in the past.

Cross-border flows are particularly devastating for Imperial Beach. The South County town’s beaches have been closed because of pollution for much of the summer.

“If there’s a bluff collapse in Del Mar. Everyone rushes and springs into action to fix it, which they should,” said Imperial Beach mayor Serge Dedina. “If there’s a sewage spill, an ongoing sewage crisis on the border, people throw up their hands and say let’s wait five years and have more meetings.”

Dedina is eager to see the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency move ahead with possible solutions.

RELATED: Tijuana River Valley Pummeled By Garbage

“It does mean impact to our beaches,” said Laura Walsh of Surfrider Foundation San Diego. “And it is one of the most massive trans boundary flows that we’ve seen.”

The last major cross border flow happened in 2017 when an estimated 170 million gallons of sewage tainted water crossed the border into U-S waters.

This flow is more than three times that size.

“We’ve talked a lot about how climate change will intensify storms and what that means for border sewage issues and water quality. And not every event is part of a trend but it’s certainly not a good day for clean water,” said Laura Walsh of the Surfrider Foundation.

The 2017 incident prompted the federal government to set aside $300 million to look at fixes, but the environmental Protection Agency is still trying to decide how to spend the money.

The U.S. agency is considering several options to fix the problem. They include work on both sides of the international border.

Massive sewage flow fouls South Bay beaches