During the 17 days that 140 million gallons of raw sewage poured from Mexico into the Tijuana River and then into the ocean fronting several popular South San Diego communities, no Mexican official disclosed the potential health and environmental hazards.
Despite the silence when the spill began Feb. 6, some 200,000 people living in South San Diego, Imperial Beach and Chula Vista knew there was something amiss. Even a mile away from the Tijuana River they could smell the eye-watering, throat-burning, overwhelming smell of raw sewage. They’d eventually learn this was the worst sewage spill in the region in a decade, Fox News reports.
The spill resulted in several miles of beaches being closed for five to six weeks from the Mexican border north to the city of Coronado. One beach by the border is still closed.
“For San Diego, which is defined by its relationship with the ocean, this kind of massive sewage spill across the border is unacceptable,” U.S. Rep. Scott Peters, a Democrat who represents some of the affected areas, told Fox News. “From surfing, to the Navy and Marine Corps presence, it drives our way of life and large parts of our economy.”
The U.S. International Boundary Water Commission, which operates under the U.S./Mexican Water Treaty of 1944 to oversee sanitation, water quality and flood control in the border region, is investigating the recent sewage spill, and why Mexican wastewater authorities didn’t report it even as sewage was visible in the ocean and beaches.
“We need cooperation on both sides of the border for this investigation to get all of the answers on how this sewage spill happened. Then we can figure out how to apply resources across the border to prevent it from happening again,” Peters said.
Serge Dedina, mayor of Imperial Beach, a working class beach community whose border abuts the Mexican border, said it was frustrating the spill hadn’t been reported, even though it could impact the health of beachgoers, surfers, those using the many trails through South San Diego for biking or hiking and the small business owners that run the many organic farms, ranches and equestrian centers along the border.
“We never had anything like this – such consistent complaints and duration of the stench, so we knew it was a pretty severe problem,” Dedina said to Fox News.