About eight miles south of the US-Mexico border is a favorite stretch of beach among many Southern California tube-seeking surfers. After swell breaks up around the Coronado Islands it detonates on the shores of Baja Malibu, producing at times sand spitting A frames that rival few other beach breaks on the West Coast. But this stretch of Baja beach spits out something other than stoked surfers. And this summer, the water quality at BM has finally attracted some much needed attention.
As common as BM’s aquatic apexes is the omnipresent “detergent” smell that often lingers in the foamy inside. But surfers tend to shrug off the possibility of something other than seawater and surf on without inquiring. Most of us would rather not know what’s out there when there are good waves to be had.
Although I know of no study that measures the molecular composition of the water at Baja Malibu, I can tell you that the smell is not benign. Two miles up the coast is the outflow of one of Tijuana’s sewage treatment facility. The perennial creek gurgles through a narrow canyon below the Mex 1, passing by the empty lot that Donald Trump’s pudgy pink face once looked over during the Baja Boom. Slightly further south is another running creek; that one fueled by effluent from the Real Del Mar Golf and Resort. With capacity to fully treat only about two-thirds of the plant’s sewage, the rest is sanitized with chlorine or bromine much like your friend’s Jacuzzi.
This has been going on for years, noticed but neglected. We continue to paddle out with few repercussions other than some frizzy post-surf hair and itchy skin (although I have heard several stories of more serious illnesses contracted by Baja Malibu and San Antonio del Mar residents). But it looks like things might be changing.
Local Baja Malibu legendary ex-pat Robert Pace Kidd called the WILDCOAST office in July regarding a new source of effluent on the south end of the beach. This one originating from development immediately inland of the Baja Malibu community. A combination of poorly functioning wastewater processing plants and illegal dumping led to an accumulating pond of stagnant sewage, equipped with dead birds and mosquitos, merely feet away from community residences and the peaks of BMs. A public health threat on land as much as offshore, WILDCOAST and local activists solicited municipal and state action.
The beach was quickly closed upon inspection by government officials who also called for immediate testing. Although results have yet to be made available, this is a step in the right direction concerning the ongoing issue of water quality in the border region.
Water quality has been recognized as an issue at Baja Malibu for years and recent action is helping to address this new pollution problem. But the experience sheds light on the greater issue of water quality throughout urban areas in Baja Norte. As development continues to outpace sewage infrastructure, leading to new outflows and dumping, we can expect more beaches to experiences similar situations to recent happenings at Baja Malibu. Hopefully, overseeing government agencies will tune into the issue and mandate better standards for the Baja coast so surfers and families alike can recreate freely without the risk of illness.