Residents of the southerly neighborhoods of Imperial Beach have been severely impacted by the stench of sewage and toxic waste over the past week. The Mexican government turned off its new Tijuana River pump station before the last rain and has yet to turn it on again. Lifeguard Chief Adam Chase reported that our local lifeguards were nauseated from sewage fumes while patrolling our beach. Pollution levels were so high that beaches were closed as far north as Coronado. The combination of a south swell and the Tijuana River flowing with raw sewage, results in highly polluted beaches.
This tragedy is easily preventable. It just requires the U.S. EPA and the IBWC to enact emergency measures to stop dry weather sewage spills from reaching our beach. Those federal agencies abandoned that approach after Mexico promised to install a new pump station. However, as we have seen, agencies in Mexico make empty promises and claims. They use the Tijuana River as an open sewer and garbage dump because they know there are no repercussions for doing so.
So what can you do to continue to help resolve this issue? First, ask San Diego County Supervisors Nora Vargas and Nathan Fletcher to declare a state of emergency in the Tijuana River Valley. Second, ask them to request that the San Diego Air Pollution Control District (they both sit on the board) investigate the impact of toxic air emissions from the Tijuana River on the health of the residents of south San Diego and Imperial Beach. We must have every agency at every level engaged in fixing this problem and preventing non-stop beach closures. Third, reach out to the offices of Rep. Juan Vargas and Senators Diane Feinstein and Alex Padilla and ask them to demand that the EPA and IBWC enact emergency measures to stop sewage flows in the Tijuana River from reaching our beach. This can easily be done (and was carried out in the summer of 2018).
While the EPA just opened the NEPA environmental review process for building diversion infrastructure in the Tijuana River Valley to stop sewage flows, we cannot wait 3-4 years for construction to be completed. We need emergency measures adopted now. Mexico claims there is work being done to fix the Punta Banderas sewage outfall river approximately six miles south of the border. That is where more than 30 million gallons of sewage is dumped into the ocean everyday (that reaches our beach during south swell and wind conditions). That is good news in theory, but I’ll wait until I actually see results to celebrate.
With the announcement by Governor Newsom that most of all COVID restrictions will be lifted in mid June, we can hopefully look forward to a great summer. But we still need to be careful and we all need to get vaccinated (I get my second Moderna shot next week). There is no easy way out of this pandemic and we all need to play a role in the recovery effort.
As part of our return to normal I am so pleased that the wonderful Imperial Beach Junior Lifeguard Program will be up and running this summer! Registration begins April 10. You can find more information on the City’s website at Imperialbeachca.gov. I recently talked with Eric Gutierrez, founder of the Imperial Beach Athletic Club (IBAC) and was elated to hear that IBAC wants to begin planning its very well organized and fun-filled community athletic events this summer. It is through organizations like IBAC, Little League, Girls Softball, Boys and Girls Club, YMCA Camp Surf, and all the other organizations that provide recreational and athletic programs and activities, that we will get back to even better than normal and have ourselves a very Endless Summer.