IMPERIAL BEACH, Calif. (Border Report) — Imperial Beach’s new mayor, Paloma Aguirre, is dealing with an old problem in her city: beach closures forced by raw sewage from Mexico.
A recent string of powerful storms in the region has forced lots of raw sewage, trash, tires and other debris across the southern border into California.
“Because of the nature of our watershed, there’s an incredible amount of flow coming from across the border with trash, tires and sewage polluting not just our recreational valley but also the beaches,” Aguirre said.
Imperial Beach, the first coastal city north of the U.S.-Mexico border, is covered in signs warning people to keep out of the water.
The signs are expected to remain in place for a while as the storm runoff is far from over with more water and a staggering amount of sewage coming in from Tijuana and into the Tijuana River Valley, which lies north of the border.
“Seven billion gallons of raw sewage is coming into our coast,” Aguirre said.
To put it in perspective, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the world uses 3.5 billion gallons of oil per day, so twice that much, in raw sewage, has found its way into the U.S. from the Tijuana area in recent weeks.
“It’s getting worse before it gets any better. That’s the bottom line,” said Aguirre, who added that, after several decades, help is on its way.
The Environmental Protection Agency has pledged more than $300 million to mitigate the problem in the Tijuana River.
“We have finally secured enough money to improve infrastructure that is needed to reduce beach closures, but that takes time because it has to go through a legal process that’s going to take a few more years before we can see shovels in the ground.”
Aguirre warns, the problem won’t be solved unless Mexico fixes another problem about 5 miles south of the border.
A sewage treatment plant called Punta Bandera has been offline for a few years.
Sewage is simply released into the ocean untreated.
Currents from the south eventually push it north toward Imperial Beach and beyond.
“The Mexican Government has committed $144 million to fix sewage treatment infrastructure south of the border, but its number one priority if fixing Punta Bandera,” Aguirre said.